DeFazio Bill Would Ban In-Flight Cell Calls

Published October 10, 2008

A bill before the U.S. House of Representatives would ban the use of cell phones on commercial aircraft in flight.

The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace (Hang Up) Act, H.R. 5788, on July 31.

The Hang Up Act was introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) on April 15. It would forbid “voice communications using communications devices on scheduled flights.” It contains exceptions for flight crew members and federal law enforcement officers performing official duties.

Calls Already Banned

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) already ban in-flight cell phone use. According to FAA spokesperson Alison Duquette, “The FAA does not permit the use of cell phones on airplanes … [because] there is the potential for cell calls to interfere with cockpit equipment.”

Duquette continued, “From the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety perspective, the Hang Up Act aligns with our view that it is not safe for passengers to use cell phones on airplanes.”

Matt Nodine of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau said, “Cell phones [on aircraft] interfere with the cell phone tower system.” In March 2007 FCC terminated a proceeding it had begun in late 2004 to consider lifting the ban.

The Hang Up Act would move the prohibition from the regulatory realm into the sphere of federal law.

Industry Divided

Industry reaction has been mixed. The Airline Transport Association, the industry’s lobbying arm, is not backing the bill, but the Association of Flight Attendants supports a ban on sky-high cell chatting.

Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, suggests many passengers will appreciate the law. “There have been many studies that have shown that passengers don’t want cell phones in the cabin,” she said.

Daniel Ballon of the Pacific Research Institute thinks the law is an unnecessary intrusion and gives an unearned benefit to certain companies. “The [Hang Up Act] was put forth merely to save people from noise from a fellow passenger,” he noted. “It is a comfort agreement.

“It is best addressed by the free market to see what people want,” Ballon continued. “The free market has the flexibility to maximize comfort for passengers. Airlines respond to consumers’ demands. The ban is there to create a monopoly for companies that charge to use phones on airplanes.”

Tabassum Rahmani ([email protected]) writes from Dublin, California.