Airplane phone calls still facing ban as DOT chief voices concerns

Chris Davies - Dec 13, 2013
Airplane phone calls still facing ban as DOT chief voices concerns

The chance of being able to make voice calls on planes is looking increasingly slim, with the Department of Transportation chief weighing in with his own concerns that in-air chatterboxes may not be in anybody’s best interest. The DOT’s stance is an important one, following an FCC vote discarding a technical ban on voice calls recently; the Department’s role, Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement, is not only based on technical issues, however, but whether “allowing these calls is fair to consumers.”

Recent loosening of restrictions on technology during flight has generally been welcomed, including allowing electronics to be used during takeoff and landing, and successful additions of WiFi internet access to planes. Cellphone use, long believed to present issues around fast handovers between ground-based base stations among other things, has been an outlier, however.

By effectively hosting a base station on the plane itself, however, the technical issues could be worked around, the FCC decided. However, the final judgement on whether or not calls should be permitted has been left to the DOT.

That’s because there’s more to the issue than just whether it’s possible. According to Foxx, the DOT is very aware of anxieties “raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress and others” about the possibility of voice calling, and the secretary says he too is concerned.

The Department of Transportation “will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls” Foxx concludes, though the agency will be open to feedback from all involved. That includes not only the carriers, airlines, and their employees, but the general public too.

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