U.S. Department of Transportation considers allowing cellphone calls on planes

The U.S. Transportsiton Department is considering allowing in-flight cellphone calls by airline passengers using WiFi. Photo by ShutterStock / ProKasia

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering allowing airline passengers to use their cellphones with WiFi while in flight and if the carriers allow it.

According to the proposal, airlines and ticket agents must disclose in advance to consumers the calls can be made on flights.

“The department believes that consumers would be unfairly surprised and harmed if they learned only after the purchase of a ticket or, worse, after boarding the aircraft that the carrier permits voice calls on its flights,” the Department of Transportation said in a release. “If voice calls are allowed on a flight, the DOT proposal requires disclosure the first time that flight is offered or identified to a consumer. No disclosure is required if the flight does not allow voice calls.”

The department has a 60-day comment period. Members of the public can comment at www.regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2014-0002.

The Federal Communications Commission bans using devices on certain radio frequencies, including for voice calls. But it doesn’t specifically cover WiFi, so technically they are not banned. But airlines in the U.S. have extended the ban to WiFi calls.

“Consumers deserve to have clear and accurate information about whether an airline permits voice calls before they purchase a ticket and board the aircraft,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in a statement. “Today’s proposal will ensure that air travelers are not unwillingly exposed to voice calls, as many of them are troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight.”

In 2014, the department requested public comments on the possibility of permitting the calls. The agency said “a substantial majority of individual commenters expressed opposition to voice calls on the grounds that they are disturbing, particularly in the confined space of an aircraft cabin.”

WiFi services are provided on planes by companies that include Gogo Inc. and ViaSat Inc. Most Android and Apple smartphones can make calls over a WiFi signal, and Skype and Google Voice services also work.

“The American public does not want voice communication in flight,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA), said in a statement to Bloomberg. “Anything short of banning voice calls is reckless. It threatens aviation security and increases the likelihood of conflict in the skies.”

Numerous airlines in Europe, parts of Asia and the Middle East allow voice communications.

But airlines in the U.S. are generally opposed to it, according to The Wall Street Journal.

United Continental Holdings Inc. said it “will carefully evaluate the views of our customers and crew members on this topic.” Previously, Delta Air Lines Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp. said they plan to prohibit voice calls on their planes, regardless of regulatory action.

American Airlines Group Inc says passengers can purchase WiFi aboard most domestic flights and internationally but cellphone and other voice services aren’t available with its in-flight WiFi.


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