The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) both prohibit the use of cell phones on airplanes in flight. The FCC's ban is meant to avoid overtaxing cellular towers, while the FAA's rule is aimed at preventing interference with an airplane's navigation and communication systems. Now that new technology addresses the concerns of both agencies, members of Congress cite a different reason for banning phones from flights: They're annoying.
"The public doesn't want to be subjected to people talking on their cell phones on an already over-packed airplane," declares Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace (HANG UP) Act, which would codify the cell phone ban and explicitly extend it to voice-over-Internet calls on flights that offer Wi-Fi access. "Cell phone users should not be able to disrupt the comfort of an entire airplane cabin, especially when other passengers have no choice but to sit there and listen."
The Inflight Passenger Communication Coalition, an alliance of electronics manufacturers, cell phone service providers, and consumer groups, is trying to stir up opposition to DeFazio's bill, which was incorporated into the House version of the FAA Reauthorization Act. The coalition argues that many passengers would welcome the opportunity to make and receive calls while flying, and it cites the experiences of 52 countries that already allow such calls as evidence that DeFazio's nightmare scenario of being surrounded by loud yakkers who refuse to quiet down is unlikely to transpire.
DeFazio insists that the desires of passengers who do not share his preferences shouldn't count. "The free market wasn't adequate to regulate smoking on planes," he says, "and it won't be sufficient to regulate cell phones either."