Calls on Flights? Still Up in the Air

The FCC is considering allowing airline passengers to make calls while airborne, but the change isn't set for takeoff anytime soon

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The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to consider a proposal to allow in-flight calling, but you shouldn’t worry about getting seated next to a chatty Cathy on your next long-haul trip.

Why not? The FCC vote was only a preliminary move that opens public debate on the issue. The Commission will now start gathering input from a wide range of stakeholders, including airlines, airline employee groups and the flying public before making a final decision. The FCC rule-making process is long and arduous, so any final decision is likely months away.

(MOREShut Up and Fly)

On top of that, the FCC isn’t the final authority on the matter. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx told CNN Thursday that he’s considering issuing a ban on in-flight calls. That could pit the DOT, which oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, against the FCC. And even if the DOT doesn’t issue such a ban, the FCC lacks the authority to force airlines to allow in-flight calling.

Meanwhile, several lawmakers have already introduced legislation that would ban calling while airborne but, in some cases, allow quieter forms of communication, such as texting. So if the FCC eventually decides to allow in-flight calling and the DOT doesn’t issue a ban, Congress could enact a law barring the practice.

Regardless of what the FCC and other federal agencies decide, it’s shaping up to be an interesting few months for airborne technology. To many a traveler’s delight, the FAA recently relaxed its rules on using electronic gadgets like e-readers during all phases of flight. And several airlines and private companies are experimenting with ways to get text messaging services and more bandwidth — more speed — to airborne Wi-Fi networks. So even if we’re never allowed to call our loved ones while screaming through the air in a metal tube at 35,000 feet, there’ll likely be other ways to keep in touch.

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