Telephone Calls: Should They Be Allowed During Flight? It Could Happen Soon…

Talk about going from one extreme to the other — and quickly.

Within a month after the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States and the European Aviation Safety Agency released announcements to allow the expansion of the usage of certain portable electronic devices to be used throughout all phases of a flight — including taxi, takeoff and landing — the Federal Communications Commission is currently considering a proposal to allow airline passengers to place telephone calls during a flight using their portable electronic devices while the aircraft is above 10,000 feet in altitude.

Telephone Calls: Should They Be Allowed During Flight? It Could Happen Soon…

Judging by this response posted by FlyerTalk member PcolaPaul

“No no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!no no no no no no no no no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

…I would have to assume that FlyerTalk members are still undecided about this issue, as it is simply not clear to me about how they feel.

All kidding aside — about the response by FlyerTalk members, not the actual proposal — the majority of FlyerTalk members have for many years been against the very thought of allowing passengers to use a mobile telephone during a flight. Additionally, the reality of passengers one day using wireless telecommunications devices aboard commercial airplanes during flights has been a possibility for years.

In July of 2003 — after an announcement was purportedly released pertaining to a study commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Transport Association intended to resolve whether or not wireless telecommunications devices on commercial flights interfered with navigational equipment — there was talk of passengers being permitted to use cellular telephones by 2006. This was compounded by both the discussion of Boeing concluding a week of demonstration flights testing the “roaming” of cellular telephones and the discussion of Airbus to have the airplanes it manufactures tested for cellular telephones by 2006. American Airlines also reportedly tested the possibility of the future usage of cellular telephones during flights in 2004; while SAS in 2005 considered allowing the usage of cellular telephones by passengers aboard airplanes during flights but then decided against it in 2008 as a result of customer feedback.

Regardless, many FlyerTalk members were opposed — with some vowing to quit traveling on airplanes if that ever happened.

In fact, one discussion with the title of In flight cell phones…NOOOOOOO! was posted on FlyerTalk in December of 2004 when an announcement from the Federal Communications Commission revealed that possible revisions to the rules prohibiting the use of cellular telephones aboard aircraft during flights would be considered. Even though lawmakers in the United States Congress were in opposition, the revisions were revisited again in 2005 — meaning that the latest announcement from the Federal Communications Commission is not unprecedented…

…and in 2007, some airlines were reportedly considering the revision to the restriction of the use of cellular telephones by passengers during a flight — but to the delight of FlyerTalk members, the Federal Communications Commission joined the Federal Aviation Administration later that year in upholding the ban with no revision to the policy.

Incidentally, the announcement in 2004 by the Federal Communications Commission considering the revisions was released only weeks after the results of a study conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority in the United Kingdom supposedly demonstrated that the use of cellular telephones endangered aircraft. However, do not mistake the skeptical responses of FlyerTalk members — who were not convinced about the results of that study and called it irrational — as automatically supporting the use of cellular telephones by passengers during a flight.

Similar results were revealed from a study conducted by the Department of Engineering and Public Policy Department at Carnegie Mellon University in 2006 — which were again met with indifference by FlyerTalk members who called the study “inconclusive.”

Never even mind the use of cellular telephones to be used during a flight: as far back as March of 2002, FlyerTalk members were irritated enough with people who talk on mobile telephones while the aircraft is on the ground to petition to have their use banned aboard airplanes altogether

…but FlyerTalk members have also generally resigned themselves into the mindset of when — not if — the day where the use of cellular telephones by passengers during a flight would be inevitable, as evidenced by this discussion in 2005 where FlyerTalk members attempt to guess when that day will happen.

Still, that resignation does not alleviate the resistance by many of the FlyerTalk members who oppose the policy of the use of cellular telephones by passengers during a flight — despite repeatedly questioning the potential danger of doing so.

Indirectly, it has already been happening: FlyerTalk member par posted in 2005 that “SAS has installed internet on some planes in their fleet (connexion by Boeing i believe). It was a pretty big hit, but now there are talks about stopping it because so many passengers are using the broadband service to make internet phone calls (skype) that the cabin has become incredibly noisy. Many flight attendants have said that it’s a real zoo onboard with as many as a dozen loud phone calls going on at the same time.”

Additionally, an announcement released by GoGo on November 13, 2013 stated that passengers will be able to talk to people during a flight using WiFi technology on their portable electronic devices — bypassing the current restriction still in place by the Federal Communications Commission — and FlyerTalk members dread that development as well.

There was even a time back in 2005 where the policy of allowing the use of cellular telephones by passengers during a flight would pose a security threat because it could supposedly aid terrorists — such as potentially assisting hijackers coordinate an attack or trigger a bomb smuggled aboard an airplane.

However, it is not the safety issues which concern FlyerTalk members — it is the perceived lack of etiquette by those who use cellular telephones in public places which seems to stir up vehement opposition.

Allow me to quote FlyerTalk member IAH-OIL-TRASH, who in my opinion posted eloquently in 2006 how FlyerTalk members generally seem to feel about permitting the use of cellular telephones by passengers during a flight:

“Answering a question from a business audience, Mr. Kellner (CEO of CAL) stated his preference of not allowing cell phone use during flights.

“Having listened to a lot of boarding-time conversation, 95% are totally useless, inane, overly-long, and mostly unneccessary. I see most conversations as a way of passing time by someone who can’t be bothered to read something. Instead, they have to bore whoever they’re talking to to keep from being bored themselves.

“It’s like cell phones in cars. People used to have to pull into a service station with a quarter for a pay phone if there was an important or necessary call to make.

“What gets me is if there were really important call to be made, the Airphones would be raking it in. But since most travellers have decided they don’t want to spend money on inane or trivial conversations, the Airphones are being yanked out. Letting cell phone being used no board means the most useless conversations have to be heard not only by the person being bored on the other end, but by those sitting next to bored individual.

“Now – don’t get me wrong – I’m fly internationally for the oil and gas business, and I have to stay in contact with associates, friends, and family, but I seem to manage it without having to have a cell phone on a plane in close proximity to other people.”

As I have said in the past, there is a difference to me between the allowance of the operation of portable electronic devices versus permitting passengers to place telephone calls during a flight.
I realize that there is a precedent for allowing telephone calls during a flight. I do remember when airplanes were equipped with Airfone — a telephone which could be used during a flight — by either Verizon or GTE. The rates were $3.99 per minute plus a connection fee of $3.99 — which equated to eight dollars for that first minute. I used the Airfone service exactly once for a very abrupt telephone call because I needed to update someone with important information.

The high cost of using Airfone discouraged many passengers from using that service. When someone did use it, it was usually only for a few minutes at best — hardly an inconvenience to fellow passengers.

By the way, Airfone was acquired by Gogo last year.

I would support the used of “texting” using a mobile telephone or tablet. I might even relent and say that telephone calls can be permitted during a flight for a fee bordering on exorbitant to discourage passengers from engaging in long conversations. However, the last thing that I want during a flight is to hear a one-sided conversation about some business transaction loudly announced by some buffoon who has no respect or consideration for the peace and quiet of his or her fellow passengers — especially if I am attempting to relax after a long day; or if I did not get enough sleep the night before; or if I had experienced some horrific delays.

You may as well seat me next to a crying baby. It can be that irritating.

Apparently, I am not alone with that feeling. Back in December of 2004, FlyerTalk member nmenaker asked “What do you think about having CELL phones allowed in flight”? The majority of FlyerTalk members back then were against that idea.


I propose a compromise: designate a specific area of the aircraft where passengers may use cellular telephones to place calls during a flight — and possibly have the airlines charge an ancillary fee. Those passengers would not be denied the opportunity to place telephone calls; other passengers would not have to deal with any potential etiquette and rudeness issues; and the airline can actually profit in the process.

Everybody is happy — no?!? Would this compromise finally end the angst expressed by FlyerTalk members for many years who have staunchly opposed the elimination of the restriction of the use of cellular telephones by passengers during a flight?

Should passengers be permitted to use wireless telecommunications devices aboard commercial airplanes during flights? If so, what do you believe would be the best compromise to ensure that as many people are as happy as possible?

What are your thoughts?

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

21 thoughts on “Telephone Calls: Should They Be Allowed During Flight? It Could Happen Soon…”

  1. manstein58 says:

    Please FAA do NOT permit this. There will be arguments, yelling, fistfights. People are rude enough now as it is!!

  2. dylanks says:

    There used to be smoking and non-smoking sections on an airplane.
    The only way I ever see this working would be to introduce quiet and non-quiet zones on a plane. Put people who want to talk on cell phones, and people with kids under a certain age in the same part of the plane.
    More seriously, it’s a bad idea all around.

  3. disalex says:

    I can’t find anyone that thinks this is a good idea!

  4. HMPS says:

    I abhor loud talkers, especially the DYKWILs.
    I will start carrying an iPad with portable speakers and play my music so others can hear it !
    If I have to listen to your conversation, you will have to listen to my music. 🙂

  5. leandrorar says:

    Remember when people here asked why they keep printing “Smoke: NO” along with seat number? Whell… Its time to rename it for “Phone” and start using it again. (IT depts don’t scream! It has the same number of letters so you will not need to update your ’70s mainframe!)
    On a more serious note, people always over-react to innovation. Its common. And its always proven to be wrong. Sorry guys. Phone calls are coming. Get used to it.
    –Cross comment

  6. IanFromHKG says:

    I love public transport in Japan, where using mobiles is taboo. 😉
    As to your compromise suggestion, I am reminded of a wonderful letter to the editor in a newspaper here which pointed out that having no-smoking areas in restaurants was like having a no-pissing area in a swimming-pool, and I draw the same analogy here. People seem to lose all sense of volume perception when on the telephone and when there is background noise – which there always is on a plane – tend to use them like megaphones instead.
    No, please, let’s have a phone-free environment on board. Some of us want to sleep, others wish to watch movies, others want to work, others want to read or relax. All these need peace and quiet.

  7. busfan says:

    Ignorant cell phone users are everywhere. In a restaurant? ask to be seated elsewhere. On a subway? Get up and move to another seat or get off at the next stop. On a plane? Sorry Mack, you are screwed. You will get to enjoy 4 hours of one sided inane babble from someone sitting 2 inches away from you. Headphones will not work, even the noise cancelling type.
    This is a terrible, idea. I would rather sit next to a smoker than be forced to endure someone’s verbal diarrhea for a four hour flight.

  8. nlkm9 says:

    NO NO NO….the loud talkers who are just plain ignorant, and then the folks who so want you to hear what theyre talking about or who they are talking about, OMG it would just be crazy. NO NO No!! LOL.

  9. wbl-mn-flyer says:

    Don’t like it? Wear ear plugs.
    Talking is talking. If it bothers you when you can only hear 1/2 the conversation, that’s your problem.

  10. javajunkie says:

    I agree with the sentiments left here by many others … too many cell phone users are dreadfully unaware of their own volume when speaking on a cell phone. I’ve even heard several private conversations on speaker phone mode because the user inadvertently activated that feature. And these examples have all occurred during the boarding or deplaning process. To allow phone use during flight will only exacerbate the problem due to the additional noise. People using cell phones will be compelled to speak even louder, with no regard to what they are saying and who can hear them. There certainly will be no concern for those sitting around them, trapped as it were. I’m reminded of the “cone of silence” from Get Smart …
    I think if there were an isolated area of the aircraft (i.e., the cargo hold) then cell phone users should select their desire to use their phone in-flight prior to boarding, and could take a seat down there amongst the other over-stuffed bags and yammer away to their heart’s content. The airlines could charge a premium for this privilege and claim that it is a necessary “enhancement” of services as it places the cell phone users closer to the tower connections they so desperately crave.
    My vote is for NO CELL PHONE USE IN FLIGHT! Please!

  11. AntsBELOW says:

    As a human…go back to the days when you had no cell phone…..ahhh…..isn’t that much quieter now in a public place….? Just say no!

  12. MrFurious96 says:

    It’s already happening. I was on a United flight last week with WiFi, and the middle seat beside me jumped on a Skype call. Not cool.
    A phone area might be better than just a free-for-all, but as one of the other posters mentioned, it’s a bit like a no-smoking section and still “pollutes” the area. Having said that, good luck convincing business people with genuinely important calls to make that they should wait.
    Though this does lead to a lucrative business opportunity, if someone can genuinely invent the “cone of silence”…

  13. wiseword says:

    One technique is to join in the conversation, as in “I think you should listen to your mother; or, “That stock is a bummer, sell it.”

  14. west49th says:

    @wbl-mn-flyer – I already DO use earplugs, the thick wax type which are the best you can get, but people speak so loudly on board planes that you can still hear them.
    I don’t have a problem with people using phones in-flight during daylight hours, but we all know that there will be some that persist in making calls when everyone else on board is trying to sleep and couldn’t give a monkey’s about the people around them. After all, the whole world revolves around them, doesn’t it?

  15. stimpy says:

    How about some facts? Cell phone on airplanes use is permitted already in other countries and the average call time is only 2 minutes. And most of that is just listening to voice mail. So please stop all the imaginary doomsday scenarios. Life will continue just as it always has.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Could a prohibitive cost be the primary reason, stimpy — as it was with the now-obsolete Airfone to which I referred in the article here at The Gate? The article in The Wall Street Journal does not address that question.

  16. judyserienagy says:

    How can anyone be so dumb as to think that people should yap on cell phones on an airplane? Even a politically correct government agency can’t be so dumb. It’s beyond comprehension.

  17. nlkm9 says:

    for the genius who says “wear earplugs if you dont like it”, FYI at best earplugs attenuate 28 db….not anywhere near enough to block out the hoise, and multiply it by several folks and it will be like the tower of babel. I hope I am not ever sitting next to you, I can see how thoughtful you are of others needs

  18. nlkm9 says:

    love this comment on the WSJ article–sums it up perfectly”D Berg wrote:
    Do not underestimate the boorishness and self-absorbtion of the public. Most of what you hear in public cell phone calls in subways, public spaces, the airport etc. pass as unimportant, non-directive banal trivialities. Every thing from who said what to whom, some family oriented “travail’ (in the long run, who in the family even cares), what to wear, who wore what, some “road ogre” being abusive to some poor schmucks at the office, etc. I could see folks calling about a spouse or child in a hospital emergency, a family call during a lifetime event like a funeral, etc. but even then a brief, quiet call. But just listen to the calls being made now while still on the ground .. and listen … would you want to hear some “obliviot” continuing that all the way on a red-eye from LAX to NY? Think about it. I am a million miler, platinum on one and gold on two other, silver on yet another … one of the joys of air travel (and there are few) is not having to listen to some inconsiderate schmuck prattle on a phone call … or not receiving them. Time to read, do some quiet work, and think… unless you are sitting near the FAA required “screaming baby” (you may not have a Sky Marshall on a plane, but no plane takes off nowadays without a screaming baby …it must be an FAA regulation)

  19. acdelta_jenna says:

    Texting, maybe, talk NEVER!

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