Bill To Ban In-Flight Wireless Voice Calls Moves Forward

The battle for a maintaining relative amount peace and quiet on commercial airlines moved on to the next stage this afternoon after a Congressional committee voted to advance a piece of legislation that would ban the in-flight use of the “phone” part of your cellphones.

The bill, dubbed Tap, Don’t Talk, but officially called the — deep breath — Prohibiting In-Flight Voice Communications on Mobile Wireless Devices Act of 2013 would do exactly what the title implies: “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.”

Introduced by Congressman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 29 members of Congress, the legislation does include exceptions to the rule for members of the flight crew, flight attendants, and federal law enforcement officers.

Under current regulations, such a ban would be redundant, as FCC rules put in place more than 20 years ago forbid the use of wireless devices for voice or text communications during flight.

However, in December 2013 the FCC began the process of reviewing this antiquated regulation to see if it’s time to finally allow passengers to make in-flight voice calls with their wireless devices.

A poll of thousands of Consumerist readers found that only 6% of you think voice calls should be allowed without exception on planes, while nearly 76% voted that in-flight cellphone calls should continue to be forbidden.

And they weren’t alone in that sentiment. Citing concerns voiced by consumers, pilots, flight attendants and lawmakers, Transportation Secretary Anthony “Double X” Foxx issued a statement in December saying the DOT would consider a cellphone ban of its own if the FCC lifted the regulations on voice communications.

In an opinion piece for The Hill, Rep. Shuster explains his reasoning for introducing the legislation:

“We frequently find ourselves unwilling spectators to what were once private conversations. Today, when we go out to eat, jump in an elevator, or just walk down the street, we commonly run into other people who are talking on the phone. Usually, when we find ourselves forced to eavesdrop on a phone conversation that’s too loud, too close, or too personal, we can just walk away… However, for an airline passenger, walking away is not an option. When flying at 30,000 feet, there’s nowhere else to go.”

If the bill doesn’t pass, and the FAA doesn’t enact its own ban on voice communications, it would be left up to the airlines to decide whether they want to enable wireless voice calls on their flights.

While all the major carriers applauded recent FAA changes that allowed the use of wireless devices for accessing the Internet during flights, the CEOs of Delta and Southwest have said they do not want cellphone chatter on their flights.

Of course, like all airline-related matters, money talks and those opinions might change if the airline operators realize they can charge wireless users a hefty fee for being able to gab loudly with people on the ground.

In somewhat related news, the FAA clarified today that pilots’ personal use of wireless devices in the cockpit is forbidden. This announcement comes amid growing concern that some pilots are being distracted by non-work uses of the tablets and computers they now use in place of flight manuals.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.