It was just three weeks ago that the Federal Aviation Administration lifted the ban on using electronic gadgets during takeoffs and landing, but now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) want to up the ante by lifting the ban on cellphone use during flights. Under the proposed changes, phone use would be treated in much the same way as other electronics were until recently. Calls would not be allowed during takeoff or landing, but once you cross the magic 10,000 foot barrier you would be free to chat away.
While most passengers have welcomed the ability to play games or listen to some tunes during takeoff, the thought of being crammed in next to somebody yakking on the phone throughout the flight promises to make what's already a pretty miserable experience even worse. It's annoying enough when you're near some loud phone talker in a restaurant or movie theater, so imagine the pain of being seated right next to some teen who wants to stay in touch with their friends during a cross-country flight. One solution might be to split the plane up into calling and no-calling zones, kind of like the way they once had smoking and non-smoking sections on the plane.
The current ban on in-flight phone use dates all the way back to 1991. There was already an earlier proposal to lift the ban in 2005, but the FCC eventually backed down after receiving more than 8,000 comments and concern from flight attendant groups. Little seems to have changed since then, and on Thursday, one FCC commissioner said that his office was flooded with calls opposed to any changes.
Even if the FCC does lift the ban, each individual airline will still be able to impose its own rules. Southwest, Delta and Virgin America have already all but nixed the idea, saying that years of customer feedback have convinced them that their passengers simply don't want to be confined to a flying phone booth. United and Jet Blue appear to be more open to the idea, but said they will need to study things further.
In any case, it's probably going to be a while before anyone can start chatting, as the airlines will need to retrofit their planes so that airborne phones can communicate clearly with the cellphone towers on the ground. Personally, I say the longer this takes the better.