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FCC considering in-flight cellphone use above 10K feet, report says

The U.S. FCC is reportedly planning to lift a restriction on in-flight cellular voice calling, but some airlines are reticent in implementing the feature due to concerns over passenger comfort.

Hawaiian Airlines

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will soon propose a loosening of limitations that disallows passengers to make phone calls or connect to data networks while in flight, reports The Wall Street Journal.

According to people familiar with the matter, the proposal is to be presented during an upcoming FCC meeting in December. If the measure is adopted, airlines will be able to allow in-flight calling if they so choose.

The news comes after the Federal Aviation Administration announced it would let passengers use electronic devices in all phases of flight. Citing FCC regulations, the new freedom came with the caveat that cell phones and tablets must be placed in airplane mode, or have their cellular radios disabled. Previously, in-flight use was only permitted above 10,000 feet.

As noted by the WSJ, the in-flight calling proposal will be announced through a Notice of Proposed Rule Making, which asks for general comments before a final decision is made. In all, the process may take months to complete.

If the proposition is passed, the added capability may not make it to all airlines, as some carriers have said their passengers strongly object to the idea. Airplanes are one of the only places where cell phone use is prohibited by law, offering some a respite from a society deeply entrenched in a cellphone culture.

For example, Delta said the company would not be allowing cellular voice calls even if the restriction is lifted, noting its customers have shown strong opposition to the option. Other airlines, like JetBlue, said it was open to the idea as long as passengers were comfortable.

In addition to the cultural concerns associated with allowing hundreds of people cell phone access in a confined environment, airlines would have to install specialized equipment to communicate with terrestrial cell towers.