The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 on Thursday to move forward with a notice of proposed rulemaking to consider allowing airline passengers to make cellular telephone calls in flight, a practice that is currently banned in the U.S., although allowed by other countries.
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA opposes relaxing the prohibition out of concern that cell phone calls will be a nuisance that compromises the ability of cabin crew to maintain order in an emergency, and polls suggest that most Americans feel the same. Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said his department will begin its own rulemaking process to ban in-flight cell calls.
Foxx’s announcement follows a move in Congress to prevent the practice. On Monday, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) introduced legislation called the “Prohibiting In-Flight Voice Communications on Mobile Wireless Devices Act of 2013,” which has been referred to his committee for consideration.
FCC members voting in favor of the NPRM argued that in-flight cellphone calls are now technically feasible without causing interference and should at least be considered. “It is my opinion that this robust debate about mobile phone call etiquette in flight should not stop the FCC from removing unnecessary and outdated technical requirements, but [allow it] to provide consumers with safe, competitive options for mobile broadband service,” said commissioner Mignon Clyburn.
“Nothing will be different on your flight tomorrow,” chairman Thomas Wheeler assured the audience attending the board’s meeting in Washington, D.C., which included representatives of flight attendants. “We’re seeking comments on a proposal.”