According to CNN, there is one thing that prevents most airlines from allowing passengers to use their phones to make calls during a flight. It has nothing to do with radio signals interfering with the controls in the cockpit; it has everything to do with opposition from flight attendants and others who say that allowing calls to be made on a flight would lead to more conflicts and chaos in the sky. In two different emails, Taylor Garland, spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants, made the position of her union clear. "We are strongly against voice calls on planes," she wrote in one email. In another missive, she typed, "NO CELL PHONES."
A Frontier Airlines flight attendant by the name of Cassandra Michele Brown worried that unregulated cellphone use on an airplane would probably make it hard for passengers to follow flight attendants' directions in case of an emergency. Brown said, "At the end of the day, our job is to evacuate an aircraft in 90 seconds or less. If you're a passenger on my flight, no matter how good you might be at multitasking, you're not going to be able to follow my step-by-step instructions to evacuate if you're focusing on your phone."
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says he values silence at 30,000 feet
As for those fears about phone use messing with the pilot's controls in the cockpit, it seems that newer handsets operate at higher frequencies than used by the electronics on a plane. And newer aircraft are designed with passengers' on board electronic devices in mind. Seth Miller, an airline industry analyst, says that there is no longer any reason why passengers onboard a plane cannot use their smartphone at will. "The reality is that new technology and new equipment have all but eliminated this problem," Miller said. "There's no longer any technical reason for people to not use cell phones on planes. When there are safety reasons for something not to happen, the aviation world always will try to err on the side of safety. On the flip side, now that we know there's no risk associated with cell phone use in-flight, the FAA and the FCC might change the rules, and if they do, it's not a given that airlines will embrace it."
An executive at one of the satellite companies that offer internet service on international flights said that allowing voice calls over internet would be a snap. "Most airlines have the ability to permit devices to make voice calls but choose not to. When the industry is ready, it probably will be as simple as flipping a switch." Some airlines already allow passengers to text during a flight. And while it is not illegal to make a call inflight, the FCC blocks the airborne use of two popular cellphone bands. The regulatory agency had proposed allowing passengers to make calls at high altitudes in 2013 under then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. But four years later, current Chairman Ajit Pai put the kibosh on the proposal. His reason? "Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet,"Pai stated.
Besides the FCC, the FAA also has its own regulations. Section 403 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 says, "The Secretary of Transportation shall issue regulations to prohibit an individual on an aircraft from engaging in voice communications using a mobile communications device during a flight of that aircraft in scheduled passenger interstate or intrastate air transportation."
There are going to be businessmen who relish the possibility of going over the Anderson deal in mid-flight. Or young parents on the way to a vacation destination that want to check in with the sitter. But those who prefer silence on airplanes note that passengers on most flights can pay for Wi-Fi and send emails. And as we just pointed out, many airlines now allow passengers to send and receive text messages.