The travel industry was left a bit perplexed in December when the Department of Transportation (DOT) made a sudden announcement. They stated a “proposal to require airlines and ticket agents to disclose in advance to consumers if the carrier operating their flight allows passengers to make voice calls using mobile wireless devices.” So what does this mean? The DOT has decided they will no longer regulate the use of cellphones for calls on planes. Instead, the decision will be determined by the airline and ticket agents.
Why are phone calls currently prohibited on airplanes?
Electromagnetic interference has been the culprit for prohibiting these calls on planes. It’s also why laptops and other devices need to be turned off during takeoff and landing. This interference is more prominent in our lives than you might think. For example, when your phone is too close to speakers, producing a static noise. Or how you sometimes hear a number being dialed on a wireless phone through a baby monitor. These are small examples that most have encountered without much consequence.
Airplanes on the other hand often use a number of radio frequencies for different tasks. If those wires are crossed while flying the results may be more severe. Radio frequency is used to communicate with ground control, air traffic control, guidance and weather detection. If a passenger’s phone is turned on, it could possibly garble the message between the pilot and others, similar to putting your phone too close to speakers.
Why phone calls are now safe on planes
The Federal Communications Commission rules do not cover wi-fi or other non-radio frequency communications. Leaving the DOT to decide if wi-fi voice calls on planes should be allowed. Calls made using radio frequency would still be prohibited.
The pros and cons of approving calls on planes
For me, there are two obvious sides to this coin. If you are an efficient business traveler, your productivity on a plane will significantly improve if you are able to call the office, clients or prospects while flying. The downside, of course, being strapped in a seat for hours, forced to listen to the one-sided calls around you. What if you are flying in the middle seat and both neighbors are on the phone? How will that affect your work? Like crying babies aren’t enough of a distraction?
Many figureheads and politicians have already put in their two cents. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) made a statement saying “Small seats, little legroom and, now, cell phone chatter – air travel could become even less comfortable if consumers are surrounded by passengers talking on mobile phones,”
DOT wants to hear from you
Overall, the DOT is still defining their decision. Is leaving this decision in the hands of airlines acceptable, or if voice calls should be prohibited altogether? Fortunately, they are looking for feedback. Members of the public can comment on the notice of proposed rulemaking at regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2014-0002. The notice closes on Feb 13, so be sure to submit your comments for their review before then.
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