FCC Chairman Wants to Keep Ban on In-Flight Cellphone Calls

Image: A passenger check her cell phone
A passenger check her cell phone before a flight in 2013.Matt Slocum / AP, file

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/ Source: Reuters
By Daniel Arkin

A key federal regulator wants to ditch a plan that would have allowed air travelers to make in-flight cellphone calls, saying the move is a win for Americans who "value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet."

The Federal Communications Commission had considered lifting a ban on high-altitude calls, suggesting in a 2013 proposal that the policy was "outdated." But the current chairman of the agency announced Monday he would stop that plan from taking off, leaving in place rules that date back to the early 1990s.

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Related: 'The Time Is Right': FCC Considers Allowing Cellphone Calls on Planes

"I do not believe that moving forward with this plan is in the public interest," new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement Monday. "Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet."

Pai's predecessor, Tom Wheeler, had said there were "no technical reasons to prohibit such technology to operate," but proposed leaving it up to the airlines to decide whether to allow in-flight phone calls.

The backlash was swift.

Airline industry groups and labor unions adamantly opposed the idea amid worries about noisy flights and other disturbances.

Four years later, Pai has come down on their side. In his statement, he dismissed the 2013 proposal as "ill-conceived."

Pai, who former President Obama first appointed to the FCC in May 2012, needs the two other agency commissioners to sign off before the 2013 plan is officially squashed, according to Reuters. Doing so would not affect current policies that allow passengers to use their mobile gadgets during flights, as long as their cellular connections are in "airplane mode."