House committee passes in-flight phone call ban

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The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would ban cellphone calls during flights.

The measure prohibits passengers from making calls while airplanes are in the air, despite a recent ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that such calls would not interfere with telephone systems that are on the ground.

The bill was sponsored by House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who said after Tuesday's committee vote that it was "common sense" to keep mid-air phone calls off limits.

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"This bill is simple. When it comes to cell phones on planes, tap, don’t talk,” Shuster said in a statement. “Airplane cabins are by nature noisy, crowded, and confined."

Shuster said he supported a separate action by the Federal Aviation Administration last year to begin allowing passengers to keep their portable electronic devices on during flights. The FAA decision, which was pushed by lawmakers, was hailed as a victory for consumers, who are increasingly connected to electronic gadgets.

Shuster said the increased freedom should stop at electronics. 

"In our day-to-day lives, when we find someone’s cell phone call to be too loud, too close, or too personal, we can just walk away," he said. "But at 30,000 feet, there’s nowhere else for an airline passenger to go. Under this bill, passengers will be able to use their mobile devices to stay connected, through getting online, emailing, texting, and more. During flights, it is common sense and common courtesy to continue keeping cell phone calls on the ground.”

The bill was approved on a voice vote by the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

Aviation and travel groups called for the full House and Senate to quickly approve the measure banning in-flight calls on Wednesday.

"I always say we should think carefully whenever Congress' impulse is to say, 'No, you can't,' but both personally and professionally this move to ban in-flight mobile calls feels to me like the right thing to do," U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow said in a statement after the vote.

"In polls, social media and everywhere else, travelers have consistently expressed their opposition to open phone conversations on planes," Dow continued. "The flight experience needs all the serenity it can get."