WASHINGTON — It looks like the government is more conflicted about cellphones on planes than most travelers. Even as one federal agency considers allowing the calls, another now wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Passengers — particularly those who fly often — oppose allowing calls in flight, polls show. In line with that sentiment, the Transportation Department signaled in a notice posted online Friday that it is considering retaining the 23-year-old ban on the calls and asked for public comments. But the notice comes just two months after the Federal Communications Commission voted to pursue lifting the ban.
The Transportation Department regulates aviation consumer issues. The FCC has responsibility over whether the use of cellphones in flight would interfere with cellular networks on the ground.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he wants to repeal the current ban, calling it restrictive and outdated. He also wants the airlines, not the government, to have final say on in-flight calling. He declined to comment Friday on the department’s notice.
Echoing some travelers’ concerns, the Transportation Department said it believes allowing passengers to make cellphone calls “may be harmful or injurious” to other passengers.
This is because “people tend to talk louder on cellphones than when they’re having face-to-face conversations,” the department said. “They are also likely to talk more and further increase the noise on a flight, as passengers would not be simply talking to the persons sitting next to them but can call whomever they like.”
Some planes already have seat-back phones in place, but they are rarely used, it said.
The “concern is not about individual calls, but rather the cumulative impact of allowing in-flight calls in close quarters,” the department said.