Airline passengers already are beginning to brace for the possible introduction of cellphones on commercial flights. Listen to Richard Archambault, an architect from Schaumburg...
WASHINGTON Airline passengers already are beginning to brace for the possible introduction of cellphones on commercial flights. Listen to Richard Archambault, an architect from Schaumburg, Ill., who wants to plug his ears against the expected yelling into balky receivers.
“People who don’t hesitate to talk in restaurants or other taboo venues will take their disrespectful attitudes with them to the skies and turn a once-quiet place of refuge into a noisy, officelike environment to the detriment of all,” Archambault said. “Overuse of the devices, loud talkers and self-important businessmen who get a kick from showing off their power will turn our airplane cabins into intolerable chatterboxes, further removing, and perhaps eliminating, all the remaining vestiges of civility in air travel.”
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The new wave of complaints comes as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) begins a review of its 20-year-old rule prohibiting cellphone chatter at 30,000 feet. The commission will seek to determine whether recent advances in technology relieve earlier concerns about the use of cellphones aboard airlines.
The FCC also will solicit passengers’ opinions. Travelers can voice their views through the agency’s Web site, www.fcc.gov. Information can be found on the site under “Filing Public Comments.”
Still, travelers’ worst fears of nonstop transcontinental chatter won’t be realized soon. Both the FCC and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would have to approve the use of cellphones in airline cabins. If the FCC rules in favor of a change, the FAA still isn’t likely to seriously begin grappling with the question until 2006, pending results of its own studies.
For its part, the FAA has banned cellphone use aboard commercial flights because of concern that the transmissions could interfere with aircraft navigational equipment. The agency has commissioned a report by the nonprofit RTCA, formerly the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, to examine the issue. So far, the FAA has not proved conclusively that cellphones interfere with navigation. But the agency has long preferred to err on the side of caution.
“The problem is there is no data or evidence that cellphones do or do not cause a problem,” FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.
In its review, the FCC will address whether cellphones used on airliners are a problem for communications on the ground. An FCC study in 2000 found that dropped or blocked calls on the ground increased because passengers overhead were talking on their cellphones. Cellular signals coming from high altitudes are spread across several base stations, interfering with callers on the ground who are using the same frequencies.
The FCC also is expected to study ways to introduce more price competition among companies that offer telephone and high-speed Internet services from the sky.
The current cellphone ban requires passengers to turn off the devices when the plane’s door is closed for takeoff. Some airlines allow travelers to make calls after a flight has landed and is moving toward a gate.
Airlines, aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and telecommunication companies such as Verizon have lobbied hard on the issue. Several carriers, recognizing that business travelers crave to remain connected, have won approval from the FAA and FCC to test how cellphones affect their own aircraft systems. American Airlines and Qualcomm conducted tests in the summer.
With cellphone use proliferating, Amtrak designated phone-free cars in early 2001 on many trains along the Northeast corridor after a flood of complaints from passengers.
Frequent traveler John Dohmen, who is based in Vienna, Va., said he supports instant wireless messaging and e-mail on airplanes but not cellphone use. “Can’t you just hear it now?” he asked. “Ten conference calls going on with passengers and their offices, each participant trying to talk louder than the next passenger because they just normally talk louder on a cellphone, and a number are trying to impress the rest of the plane with how important they are.”