Quiet, Please

 - September 5, 2008, 7:27 AM

The full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has passed a bill that would ban in-flight cellphone use on U.S. airlines. H.R.5788, “The Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace (Hang Up) Act,” is expected to be considered by the full House of Representatives when its members return from summer vacation this month.
While in-flight cell- phone use is currently banned in the U.S., the European Union has announced that it will allow cellphone use on all airlines. H.R.5788 would ensure that the U.S. ban would not be lifted, but would allow passengers to use text messaging, e-mail and Internet as available. The legislation is supported by flight attendant organizations and public surveys indicate strong support for prohibiting inflight cellphone use.

“This is an important bill for maintaining safety and civility in the skies,” said Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. “Just about everyone who flies has had to endure sitting next to someone pre-flight while they chatter loudly on their cellphone.”

He contended that having to put up with this for several hours in-flight would not only be a tremendous nuisance but would also pose a safety hazard. “Flight attendants cannot give safety guidance if 50 people are talking on cellphones, and they should not have to referee passenger disturbances that stem from rude cellphone use,” Costello said. “The Hang Up Act will ensure that we don’t get to that point.”

But Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), ranking Republican on the full committee, countered there are a lot of annoying things on airplanes, including children with dirty diapers and noisy MP3 players, but that doesn’t mean they should be banned. “You are trying to legislate courtesy, folks, and that just doesn’t work,” he added.

A survey by the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) in November 2007 revealed that nearly four out of 10 U.S. residents (39.7 percent) believe passengers should “definitely or probably” be allowed to use cellphones if there were no interference issues with aircraft communication systems. Slightly less than half (45.5 percent) said they definitely or probably should not be used. The remaining 15 percent said they weren’t sure. The margin of error is 3.1 percent.

The BTS said people age 65 and older are more likely to oppose in-flight cellphone use than those between 18 and 34. The opinions of those aged 35 to 64 years fell between those other groups. Four out of 10 (40.3 percent) said passengers should definitely or probably be allowed to use cellphones while less than half (45.6 percent) said they definitely or probably should not be used. The remaining 14 percent said they weren’t sure.