The Feds Don't Want In-Flight Cell Phone Calls, Either

The U.S. Department of Transportation has a hang-up with in-flight calls, perhaps enough to put an official kibosh on them – and soon.

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By Kim Lachance Shandrow

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Sorry, frequent dialers. No Mile-High Phone Call Club for you. Maybe not ever. Not in American airspace.

The Feds are getting closer to officially banning in-flight cell phone calls, even if cell phones don't technically interfere with plane instruments and cockpit communications.

If the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) greenlights a ban, you might never have to put up with someone yapping on their mobile phone near you -- nor anywhere else in the cabin -- while you fly.

Related: Why the TSA Now Wants to Turn On Your Cell Phone Before Boarding

The Wall Street Journal reports that DOT general counsel Kathryn Thomson said the agency is gearing up toward a formal prohibition on in-flight calls.

The DOT later confirmed, noting that it's in the process of creating a public "notice of proposed rulemaking" detailing why it's seeking such a ban, also according to the Journal. Not only are in-flight calls disruptive to passengers with nowhere to run to, they can also disrupt cellular networks on the ground.

A final decision on whether to enact a ban is expected in February. In the meantime, the DOT invites airline industry officials and anyone else with an opinion on the issue (a.k.a. everyone) to provide feedback.

Related: $15,000 Could Be Yours If You Fix This Evil Airport Affliction

Currently, on most airlines, passengers are allowed to use their cell phones to make and take calls (and text) from inside planes while on the ground, while parked at the gate and/or on the runway and while taxiing. Also, per the Federal Communications Commission's relaxation of in-flight portable electronics rules last October, air travelers can now use their cell phones (and other personal electronic devices) in "airplane mode" to play games, watch videos and read e-books, etc., during flights, gate to gate.

Late last year, the FCC proposed lifting its 23-year ban on in-flight cell phone calls -- saying that ground-based cell network interference was essentially a non-issue -- but left it up to airlines to "develop any in-flight phone usage policy they may wish." Delta Air Lines opted not to overturn its strict in-flight no-call policy. Neither did American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and others. Domestic airlines still aren't warming up to the idea of letting passengers gab on cells in flight, but they still want the right to choose for themselves.

"Airlines aren't clamoring to allow mobile phone use during flight, and some have already said they'd prohibit it on their own flights," Jeffrey Shane, general counsel for the International Air Transport Association told the Journal. He also said some airlines might consider looking into offering in-flight quiet zones.

Related: Traveling Coach On U.S. Flights Has Become a Serious Pain

The FCC hasn't yet reversed its in-flight no-call rule and, if the DOT steps in with a ban, it wouldn't be able to anyway.

So, yeah, you can probably forget dialing up your bestie from 35,000 feet to dish every last deet from your bachelorette party after all. That is unless you're flying one of 19 or so airlines in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America that routinely let cell phone calls rip, right up until they hit U.S. airspace.

Tell us: What do you think? Should in-flight calls be allowed on airplanes? Sound off in the comments below.

Related: Why Airline Loyalty May No Longer Pay Off

Kim Lachance Shandrow

Former West Coast Editor

Kim Lachance Shandrow is the former West Coast editor at Previously, she was a commerce columnist at Los Angeles CityBeat, a news producer at MSNBC and KNBC in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times. She has also written for Government Technology magazine, LA Yoga magazine, the Lowell Sun newspaper,, and the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Coop. Follow her on Twitter at @Lashandrow. You can also follow her on Facebook here

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