FCC proposes allowing cell phone use during flights

Eric Pfeiffer

In a move sure to delight some travelers and drive others nuts, the Federal Communications Commission is set to propose allowing passengers to use their cellphones to make calls during regular commuter flights.

The Wall Street Journal reports that phone use would still be restricted during takeoff and landing times but that commuters would be allowed to use their phones and wireless Internet devices above 10,000 feet.

"Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. "I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers."

In order to make the proposal law, the Federal Aviation Administration would simply need to accept the FCC’s proposal. After all, many international flights already have such a practice. However, individual airlines would still have to install the technology to support in-flight calls.

As USA Today notes, cell phone use was banned in 1991 after concerns that the calls would interfere with ground-based communications. However, with the advancements in wireless technology, those concerns have largely gone away.

To put the policy in perspective, Air Force One, arguably the world’s most secure passenger aircraft, has for years allowed reporters on board to use their cell phones during flights.

If the FCC proposal gets off the ground, it would be the second major change this year for air travelers. On November 1st, the FAA made an official policy change allowing travelers to use their electronic devices throughout a flight , so long as the wireless function was turned off during takeoff and landing periods.

The FCC is set to make the proposed rule change during its December meeting. If the proposal is approved, it would then be sent to the FAA for consideration. Individual airlines could then decide whether or not to allow passengers to use their phones during flights.

Still, the change is still far from assured. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the FCC made a similar proposal in 2004 only to drop it three years later after numerous complaints from flight attendants and others who said allowing passengers to talk on their phones during flights would be a “nuisance.”