US lawmaker introduces bill to ban in-flight voice calls

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The chairman of the US House of Representatives' main transportation committee introduced a bill to prohibit in-flight cell phone use on commercial flights today.

The bill, introduced by republican Bill Shuster, seeks to prohibit passengers from using mobile devices on board aircraft to place voice calls. Pilots, flight attendants and law enforcement officials on duty would be exempt from the rule, the bill states.

“For passengers, being able to use their phones and tablets to get online or send text messages is a useful in-flight option,” says Shuster in a statement. “But if passengers are going to be forced to listen to the gossip in the aisle seat, it’s going to make for a very long flight.”

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials are expected to decide on 12 December whether to move forward a proposed rule to expand the use of in-flight mobile technologies that would allow passengers to make voice calls, text or send data through cellular networks in the cabin.

While it is technically possible for IP- based voice calls to be made on some US aircraft enabled with wi-fi today, several airlines already prohibit passengers from using these voice services.

Delta has years of customer feedback on the impact on the customer experience and voice communications and the overwhelming sentiment is to continue with a policy that would not allow voice communications while in flight,” says the airline, noting that it has been supportive of silent activities like e-mail or texting.

Alaska Airlines also does not allow voice calls, it says.

“Our policy is still to not allow voice calls on our airplanes,” says the Seattle-based carrier. “We are following our customers' wishes on this for the time being.”

Other airlines say they would review any new cellular policy the FCC were to propose while keeping in mind passenger concerns.

JetBlue says that “initial customer feedback indicates people may not want the current FCC policy to change” but adds that it would accommodate all customers if the new rules were updated.

“If the FCC’s new policy does go into effect, we would prioritise making the cabin comfortable and welcoming for all - for those who want cell service and for those who like peace and quiet," says the New York-based airline.

United Airlines says that it would review the FCC’s proposed rule change while gaining feedback from its employees and passengers.

“Our customers have expressed concern about how the use of cellphones in-flight will impact their experience on-board,” the airline tells Flightglobal.” When the FCC makes a proposal available, we will study it along with feedback from customers and crews.”

Leading in-flight mobile providers AeroMobile and OnAir have long pushed for relaxed restrictions on cellular use in the cabin and note that airlines have the choice whether to enable the voice services in addition to texting and data capabilities if opting for their communications services. The capability would enable passengers to charge these services to their mobile provider as they do on the ground.

Gogo offers a service called Text & Talk that allows airlines to offer voice, texting and data services via passengers’ mobile devices regardless of whether the FCC changes its policy and has said it could sign an airline customer for the service as soon as early 2014.