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Monday, August 04, 2014, 04:52 pm PT (07:52 pm ET)

U.S. government may ban in-flight cellphone calls, airlines voice disapproval

The U.S. Department of Transportation is reportedly inching closer to signing off on new rules that would restrict the use of cellphones on planes, but carriers say the judgment should be up to them.

Hawaiian Airlines


Citing people who attended a speech given by DOT general counsel Kathryn Thomson at the International Aviation Club in Washington last week, The Wall Street Journal reports the agency is taking steps toward formally banning cellular phone calls made during U.S. flights.

According to two spokespeople, the DOT is preparing a "notice of proposed rulemaking" that applies to in-flight calls, though the contents of said regulations has yet to be decided. The report notes, however, that the agency has been looking to end potentially disruptive voice calls under consumer protection laws that require airlines to provide "safe and adequate" service.

Some airlines have already chosen to place their own restrictions on in-flight cellphone calling, but others that want to use the feature as a way to stand apart from the competition argue the Transportation Department is overstepping its bounds.

Use of personal electronic devices has been a heated topic for travelers since Apple helped usher in the rise of smartphones in 2007. In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration announced a rule modification that allows passengers to operate PEDs gate-to-gate, overturning a long-standing restriction that prohibited use below an altitude of 10,000 feet. The FAA did not, however, include cellular calling in its rule change, meaning smartphones still need to be in Airplane Mode during all phases of flight.

A report in November noted that the Federal Communications Commission was debating a change to current in-flight calling rules that would allow carriers to decide whether to extend the feature to passengers. After a meeting in December, the FCC officially proposed a measure, but a formal rule has yet to be issued.

The DOT is set to publish the proposed rulemaking document in December. In the case that its decision conflicts with an FCC mandate, the DOT's determination would take precedent.