Bill introduced in Senate to ban in-flight calls

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Thursday introduced legislation to prevent airlines from allowing their passengers to talk on cellphones during flights.

The legislation would preempt a potential ruling by federal regulators that could open the door to in-flight calls.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering lifting a ban that has been based on the idea that calls made from airplanes would interfere with communications systems that are located on the ground.

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The agency has responded to criticisms of its plans to consider reversing the in-flight call ban by saying that it is not interested in policing passenger behavior.

Alexander and Feinstein said someone should make sure airplanes are not filled with competing telephone conversations.

"Keeping phone conversations private on commercial flights may not be enshrined in the Constitution, but it is certainly enshrined in common sense,” Alexander said in a statement. “This legislation is about avoiding something nobody wants: nearly 2 million passengers a day, hurtling through space, trapped in 17-inch-wide seats, yapping their innermost thoughts.”

Feinstein agreed, and noted that the measure would still allow airline passengers to send text messages and emails from their cellphones.

"Flying on a commercial airline — in a confined space, often for many hours — is a unique travel experience that is, candidly, not conducive to numerous passengers talking on cell phones," Feinstein said. "This bill recognizes the use of cell phones to make calls during flights can be disruptive and irritating to other passengers and would prevent such communications during domestic flights.  The bill, however, would not affect the ability to communicate via text and email during a flight.”

The possibility of overturning the ban on cellphone use during flights gained momentum when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Oct. 31 that it would begin allowing airline passengers to keep their portable electronic devices on during the entire length of flights.

Under the new rules, cellphones can be used during flights, but they have to be on data mode.

The changes being considered by the FCC on Thursday would allow passengers to use the mobile networks that are provided by their cellphone carriers.