Are Voice Calls Coming to Airplanes?
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) The clock is ticking down toward the close of the comment period on the year's most divisive issue in aviation, and that is because March 17 is the final day of the Federal Communications Commission's open period for commenting on comments on permitting voice calls on commercial jets.
In Washington D.C., the Hill has already made its opposition known.
In the House of Representatives, Bill Shuster's (R-Penn) Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed in February, in a voice vote, a ban on voice calls on airplanes.
A similar bill - sponsored by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- is wending its way through the Senate.
The trigger for the hubbub? Back in November the FCC floated the idea of possibly allowing voice calls on planes - and that spurred an avalanche of loud protests.
Chugging down the same path at the FCC - although this is receiving applause, not boos - is a proposal to let airlines decide to allow passengers to access cellular data on planes in-flight (in other words: no more mandatory announcement to put handhelds into airplane mode). Isn't that dangerous? Although the ban on cellular usage was put into place for safety reasons, there is no widely accepted evidence to prove there are dangers. Pretty much nobody opposes this.
Pretty much everybody opposes voice calls, and it isn't danger that fuels the opposition. It's abhorrence at the prospect of sitting in a jammed coach row and being forced to listen to personal chitchat.
"If voice calls are allowed on planes, not only are we going to be distracted by our own phones, but the transatlantic break up call, complete with tears and sobbing, will be a reality," said relationship expert April Masini, who blogs at AskApril. "And anyone hoping to catch up on some sleep, may not be able to when the business calls from the person in the next seat - seats? - not only disrupt REM sleep, but induce hives when you realize you're not working, and perhaps could be or should be."
It's hard to find proponents for voice calls, but a tough question needs asking: are we overreacting to the annoyance factor of inflight voice calls? Just maybe.
Roslyn Layton, a Ph.D. Fellow at the Center for Communication, Media and Information Technologies at Aalborg University in Copenhagen, thinks we are. Voice calls have been allowed on planes flying in Europe for some time, and, she reported on recent usage findings, "fewer than 2% of customers used voice services in flight, phone calls were less than two minutes long, and...the amount of voice calls is extremely low."
Parse that data and, obviously, people are making voice calls over Europe in emergencies and/or to deliver crisp, terse news ("Flight delayed, I'll be home at midnight"). What's the big deal?