Cell Phones on a Plane Might Not Be as Bad as You Think


(Photo: Thinkstock)

Will you soon be able to make that all-important business call during that cross-country flight? Not if the masses have anything to say about it.

The drive to keep the U.S. ban on in-flight phone calls has united disparate groups across the social and political spectrum: flight attendants and passengers, airlines and activists, even Democrats and Republicans. 

A bipartisan group of almost 80 members of the U.S. House of Representatives — who don’t agree on much of anything these days — have signed a letter asking federal regulators, who are considering easing the ban, to keep it as is. They were quickly backed up by the largest flight attendants union, which also wants the no-cell-phone-calls policy to stay in place.

Related: Three Ways to Cut Costs on Smartphone Travel Abroad

And many passengers are against it too. Attorney Christine Reppert told Yahoo Travel that she enjoys the downtime that the no-calls policy allows her to have on business trips. “No one has an expectation that you’ll be able to stay in touch when you’re on a flight,” she said. But that would change if word got out that, yes, you could call someone on a flight to ask that easily-could-have-waited question. “Suddenly, if people know you can talk on your phone, you have to be available.”

But amid all the hell-no-we-won’t-go protests, here are four reasons why you shouldn’t have to worry about the feds allowing cell phone conversations during flights. 

Cell phones won’t cause riots 


Can something as small and innocuous as this lead to airborne conflict?(Photo: Thinkstock)

In the House of Representatives’ letter, the lawmakers wrote: "Arguments in an aircraft cabin already start over mundane issues, like seat selection, reclining seats and overhead bin space, and the volume and pervasiveness of voice communications would only serve to exacerbate and escalate the disputes."

In other words, with fliers already on edge, allowing cell phone calls will turn airplanes into aerial fight clubs. 

Is that really true, though? Look overseas, where cell phone calls are allowed on many international carriers (the ones that fly to the U.S. turn off the capability once they reach American airspace). The European company OnAir provides cell phone data and voice services for many of those carriers. And in an interview, OnAir’s CEO, Ian Dawkins, said, “We haven’t had a single problem.” 

WATCH: Constant Phone Calls Allowed On European Flights

That brings us to the second reason: 

Who makes calls anymore?


Is he actually using his phone to TALK to someone? (Photo: Thinkstock)

Dawkins said that out of all the cell traffic OnAir handles on board planes, less than 10 percent involves people making phone calls (the rest is text and data usage). And those who make calls, he said, tend to keep them under two minutes.

Business travel columnist Joe Brancatelli of JoeSentMe.com said that’s been his personal experience. “I fly internationally a lot, and I can’t remember the last time I saw someone make a voice phone call,” he said. “Who is this mass of people looking to climb on an airplane and make phone calls? They don’t exist.”

It’s easy to see why, inside or outside of airplanes, people aren’t having long phone conversations anymore. Why would you, when texting, email, and social media are much more convenient ways to communicate? 

Even attorney Christine Reppert, who is against lifting the ban, concedes that point. “It’s almost anachronistic,” Reppert said of cell phone calls. “It’s almost rude to call someone without emailing first to see if they’re going to be free.”

So if people aren’t making calls, there’s no problem. And even if they were…

Would cell phone calls on airplanes really be that annoying? 


Would this guy’s two minute conversation disturb your work that much? (Photo: Thinkstock)

Yes, a lot of us find loud cell phone talkers annoying. And the notion of dealing with them on an airplane, while we’re trying to relax ahead of that out-of-town presentation, sounds excruciating. “I want to get on a plane to watch a movie and go to sleep without people having phones ringing and having conversations next to me,” said Reppert.

But what about the silent population that doesn’t mind?

"People talk on flights all the time," frequent flier and CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin told Yahoo Travel. "What difference does it make if they are on the phone or chatting with a passenger seated in the next seat?" Another attorney, Philadelphia’s Aaron Freiwald, doesn’t mind, either. "It’s the same as someone on a call in a restaurant,” he tweeted to Yahoo Travel. “If the person isn’t too loud, I don’t see how it’s different than any conversation.”

Wow! It’s usually difficult to get two attorneys to agree on anything.

But still, this discussion may be entirely academic because…

U.S. air carriers would probably still ban cell phones


U.S. air carriers will likely continue banning mobile phone calls (Illustration: Thinkstock)

Regardless of what Washington does about cell phones on planes, most U.S. air carriers have told Yahoo Travel that they’re going to keep their own bans in place:

JetBlue — “We have no plans on installing the cellular transponders that would allow cellular calls.”

Delta — “Delta will not allow cellular calls or Internet-based voice communications on board Delta or Delta Connection flights.”

United Airlines — “At this time, we don’t intend to permit use of cell phones.”

Virgin America — “We remain committed to maintaining a quiet and restful cabin environment.”

"I think it is fair that airlines should be able to set their own policies about allowing passengers to use [cell phones]," said David Parker Brown, editor in chief and founder of AirlineReporter.com. “The free market can help show if passengers truly want this option.”

And that’s ultimately what will decide the future of in-air cell phone calls: passenger demand (well, that and whichever option the airlines decide is the most profitable).  But it looks like the anti-cell phone crowd can fly easily — for now. “Airplanes are the only safe haven left from connectivity,”  lamented Reppert. We’ll see how much longer that airborne safe haven stays aloft.

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