Gov pro­posal en­vi­sions phone calls on flights

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Air­lines could let pas­sen­gers make in-flight phone calls us­ing Wi-Fi un­der a pro­posal from fed­eral reg­u­la­tors. Flight at­ten­dants and others have com­plained that the calls could be dis­rup­tive. But the De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion said Thurs­day that it en­vi­sioned al­low­ing the calls if air­lines tell all cus­tomers about the pol­icy when they buy their tick­ets.

That way, cus­tomers could make other travel ar­range­ments if they feared sit­ting next to pas­sen­gers chat­ting on their phones. There is a 60day com­ment pe­riod, and the pro­posal leaves the door open to the pos­si­bil­ity that fed­eral of­fi­cials could still im­pose an out­right ban. The Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion pro­hibits pas­sen­gers from mak­ing cell phone calls dur­ing flights, but not Wi-Fi calls.

“To­day’s pro­posal will en­sure that air travelers are not un­will­ingly ex­posed to voice calls, as many of them are trou­bled over the idea of pas­sen­gers talk­ing on cell phones in flight,” Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary An­thony Foxx said in a state­ment. In 2014, the de­part­ment is­sued a re­quest for pub­lic com­ments on the pos­si­bil­ity of per­mit­ting the calls and the re­sponse was over­whelm­ingly neg­a­tive.

Sara Nel­son, pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Flight At­ten­dants-CWA, said any­thing short of a ban on calls is “reck­less.” Flight at­ten­dants have said pre­vi­ously that they fear the calls could lead to fights be­tween pas­sen­gers who want to make calls and pas­sen­gers who don’t want to lis­ten to the con­ver­sa­tions. “It threat­ens avi­a­tion se­cu­rity and in­creases the like­li­hood of con­flict in the skies. It threat­ens safety for crews and pas­sen­gers,” Nel­son said.

How­ever, the US air­lines’ trade group op­poses a gov­ern­ment ban on in-flight calls. “We have long held that this was not a mat­ter for DOT to reg­u­late, and we be­lieve air­lines should be able to de­ter­mine what ser­vices can be safely of­fered in flight and make those de­ci­sions based on what is in the best in­ter­ests of their pas­sen­gers and crewmem­bers,” a spokes­woman for Air­lines for Amer­ica, Kathy Gran­nis Allen, said by email.

South­west Air­lines and Alaska Air­lines said they have no plans to al­low voice calls. “Our cus­tomers have ex­pressed con­cerns re­gard­ing the po­ten­tially dis­rup­tive na­ture of in-flight voice calls,” said South­west spokesman Brian Par­rish. Alaska Air­lines spokes­woman Bob­bie Egan said the car­rier sur­veyed pas­sen­gers a few years ago and got “a strong re­ac­tion” that they didn’t want calls. A Delta Air Lines spokes­woman noted that the car­rier has op­posed voice calls for sev­eral years. United Air­lines said it was re­view­ing the pro­posal and would lis­ten to the views of cus­tomers and em­ploy­ees. Amer­i­can re­ferred questions to the trade group. JetBlue did not have an im­me­di­ate com­ment. —AP

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