Feds push for more transparency over in-flight phone calls

Feds push for more transparency over in-flight phone calls
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The Department of Transportation (DOT) is issuing a new rule that would require airlines to disclose their policies regarding cellphone use on commercial flights.


The last-minute proposal in the Obama administration's final days was released Thursday. It would require airlines and ticket agents to notify customers on whether their air carrier allows passengers to make in-flight voice calls using mobile wireless devices.   

The DOT said it’s unfair to expose passengers to voice calls during flights without giving them proper notice, calling the practice “unfair” and “deceptive.”

Currently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits using mobile devices on certain radio frequencies onboard commercial flights, which includes voice calls. But the rules don’t apply to Wi-Fi and other ways that passengers can make phone calls thanks to new technology.

“Consumers deserve to have clear and accurate information about whether an airline permits voice calls before they purchase a ticket and board the aircraft,” said DOT Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxHillicon Valley: Uber, Lyft agree to take California labor win nationwide | Zoom to implement new security program along with FTC | Virgin Hyperloop completes first test ride with passengers Uber, Lyft eager to take California labor win nationwide Big Dem names show little interest in Senate MORE in a statement. “Today’s proposal will ensure that air travelers are not unwillingly exposed to voice calls, as many of them are troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight.”

The agency is seeking public feedback on whether disclosure is sufficient, or whether it should ban voice calls on flights altogether. 

The DOT issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on the issue in 2014, with some opposing in-flight phone calls because they are disturbing, while others argued that the decision should ultimately be up to airlines.


The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) quickly weighed in on the proposal Thursday, pressing the DOT to go further in its rulemaking.

“The American public does not want voice communication in flight. Anything short of banning voice calls is reckless,” said Sara Nelson, president of AFA. “It threatens aviation security and increases the likelihood of conflict in the skies. It threatens safety for crews and passengers. AFA will continue to press for a complete ban of inflight voice calls. No calls on planes. Period."