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Air travelers urge FCC to keep planes quiet

Air travelers wasted little time barraging regulators with hundreds of e-mails opposing ending the ban on the use of mobile phones during commercial flights.
/ Source: Reuters

U.S. air travelers wasted little time barraging communications regulators with hundreds of e-mails registering their opposition to ending the ban on the use of mobile phones during commercial flights.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission Wednesday unanimously proposed lifting the ban if issues about safety and technical hurdles can be overcome. FCC officials said their mandate was to facilitate communications.

But the potential of scores of passengers talking on mobile phones during a lengthy flight has many travelers worried that their last quiet haven from such conversations will evaporate.

"We've received a couple hundred e-mails from the public, most of whom believe that use of devices that don't involve talking are fine, but are not looking forward to the possibility of hearing more conversations than they do now," said Lauren Patrich, a spokeswoman for the FCC wireless bureau.

The FCC's consumer bureau also received more than 1,200 e-mails on the subject.

During a meeting Wednesday to adopt the proposal, FCC commissioners acknowledged their hesitation at the impact of allowing air travelers to use their wireless phones while aloft but said those decisions were outside the agency's purview.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration also has a ban against the use of communications devices aboard airplanes. Officials from both agencies have said it will probably be two years before the ban could be lifted, if at all.

Some who sent comments to the FCC expressing fears suggested that if the ban is lifted and wireless service is allowed on board, the airlines should separate those who want to use their phones behind a partition.

Another person worried that the airlines could start charging a premium to passengers who want a flight that does not allow the use of mobile phones.

Amtrak rail service in the northeast section of the United States, including its flagship route between Boston and Washington, offers one car on most trains where wireless phones are banned and conversation must be kept to a whisper at most.

The so-called quiet car was instituted after Amtrak received a request from a frequent passenger who had grown tired of the increasing volume of fellow travelers using their phones, according to Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black.

"We decided to give it a try as a pilot project and it was very popular," he said. "Eventually it has spread."