Tags: US | aviation | telecom | regulate

Loud Reaction Largely Against In-flight Phone Proposal

Friday, 22 Nov 2013 09:34 PM

 

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The complaints started getting loud almost immediately after US regulators said they were considering allowing cell phone use on airplanes.

In petitions, on social media and in press releases, the grumbling began within hours after the Federal Communications Commission said the question would be discussed at a December 12 meeting.

The Association of Flight Attendants said it firmly opposed a rule change, citing "the importance of maintaining a calm cabin environment."

"Any situation that is loud, divisive, and possibly disruptive is not only unwelcome but also unsafe," said the union statement.

"In far too many operational scenarios, passengers making phone calls could extend beyond a mere nuisance, creating negative effects on aviation safety and security that are great and far too risky."

More than 1,000 people added their names within a day to an online petition to the White House asking to block any rule change.

"During flights, passengers are forced into a restricted space, often for long periods of time," the petition stated.

"Forcing them to listen to the inane, loud, private, personal conversations of a stranger is perhaps the worst idea the FCC has come up with to date. This would make an already cranky, uncomfortable travel experience exponentially worse... Just because we CAN use our phones at 30,000 feet doesn't mean that we SHOULD be able to."

Reaction on Twitter ranged from outrage to comical.

Fred Somers of Buffalo, New York, tweeted, "The airplane is one of the last save havens from obnoxious phone etiquette. They're everywhere else! No phones on planes!"

Ron Charles of Bethesda, Maryland, meanwhile quipped in a tweet: "Hoping the FCC also lifts that old ban against throwing cell phone users from the plane."

An online survey by the news site MarketWatch found 83 percent opposed calling on planes, while only six percent favored it.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Friday moved to clarify that his agency was only reviewing technical considerations, and would not be in a position of telling airlines they need to allow phone usage.

"We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes," he said in a statement. "I feel that way myself. Ultimately, if the FCC adopts the proposal in the coming months, it will be airlines' decisions, in consultation with their customers, as to whether to permit voice calls while airborne."

An FCC fact sheet said the December meeting will consider "whether advances in technology no longer warrant -- on a technological basis -- the prohibition of in-flight mobile phone use."

"This is purely a technical decision; it would leave airlines free to develop any in-flight phone usage policy they may wish," the fact sheet said.

The move comes just weeks after regulators broadened permissions for the use of electronics in flight, including during takeoff and landing, as long as they remained disconnected from Internet and broadband services.

OnAir, a Swiss-based provider of in-flight wireless services, welcomed the FCC move, saying its service has been used on thousands of flights around the world since 2007 and that "there has not been a single complaint about disruption caused by people making calls."

Ian Dawkins, chief executive of OnAir, said in a statement: "Forget the hyperbole about the chaos inflight cell phone usage could cause. The issue simply hasn't arisen anywhere in the world in the past six years. An aircraft is a noisy environment, so the sound of a conversation doesn't carry very far. Flight attendants can also control the use of Mobile OnAir by disabling the voice element during quiet times."

Harold Feld of the Washington-based digital rights group Public Knowledge, said his group has no official position on the matter but noted that decision needs to be split into two parts -- whether it poses technical risks, and whether it would be appropriate to allow conversations in the enclosed cabins.

"The technical rule should not be used as a proxy for a social rule," Feld told AFP.

© AFP 2014

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