back to article Thought of in-flight mobile calls fills you with dread? Never fear, US Dept of Transport is here

The US Department of Transportation is considering banning people from making mid-flight cellphone calls – all while the US Federal Communications Commission mulls approving in-flight mobile jabbering. "Over the past few weeks, we have heard of concerns raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress and …


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  1. LaeMing

    What section sir?

    Chanting or non-chanting?

  2. Number6

    Re-purposed toilet

    Perhaps the airline could refit one of the toilets with cellphone capability and arrange that it only worked if the door was locked tight. That way, the rest of the passengers wouldn't be disturbed, and hopefully all the other sad people desperate to talk on their phone on the flight would be put off by having to wait for the first sad person to finish.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Re-purposed toilet

      No... please no. The toilet lines are already long enough.

  3. DainB Bronze badge

    So how chatting on the plane is different from chatting on interstate or intercity bus or train again ?

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      It's not

      Outlaw them all. Actually the last train I was on (the Auto-Train) had designated cellphone/noisy cars and quiet/sightseeing cars, and it was enforced.

      And the last bus I was on, someone said "n----r, yo put dat phone down homes, or dere's gonna be WORDS" and that was the end of that.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      DainB, the difference is that on a bus or train there is the possibility of moving to a new seat to get away from a chatterbox that just HAD to call their friend and talk about nothing for an hour while you are trying to read. On an airplane, there is no where to go unless you want to occupy the loo for the whole trip. Many airlines are adding (expensive) wi-fi internet connections so people can instant message, email and surf the web until their credit limit is maxed. As long as they are quiet, I have no problem with that. If they were too busy during the safety lecture and can't find their way out in an emergency, I am happy to help them lie down out of the way as I exit. No problem. I just don't want to be motivated to find out if suicide by paper cuts is possible while a teenage girl (or facsimile) sits next to me talking to their "BFF".

      1. DainB Bronze badge

        I guess you've never heard about headphones before either. Your comfort is your and only your problem, you know ?

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        The issue is the chatterbox

        I'm able to have a quiet conversation on my phone without disturbing people around me and I've been doing it since I had a bag phone which weighed about the same as 3 housebricks.

        If the Dom Joly types can't do it with a phone, they'll find another way of trying to draw attention to themselves.

    3. Tromos

      The difference

      One can't remedy the situation by snatching the offending phone and chucking it out of the window.

      1. DainB Bronze badge

        Re: The difference

        yeah, i would love to see you doing that and have your face smashed by teen girl.

  4. dssf

    Left hand, Right Hand

    Left hand, Right Hand, Endprompt too "meet and greet"

    While the right hand helps to "issue" and "stroke" of "rejoicement", the left hand, and particularly the THUMB of that left hand, indignantly clogs up the "pipe" on the back end....

    I wonder which Director gets to brush and floss with habanery and capsicum spices to rid the backsliding-caused between-teeth hairs that got stuck...

    1. Swarthy

      Re: Left hand, Right Hand

      El Reg,

      While I do appreciate the upvote and downvote buttons, I would like to echo a previous request for an "I think you are completely insane" button.

      The previous post, I think, is all the justification needed.

      1. Vic

        Re: Left hand, Right Hand

        > The previous post, I think, is all the justification needed.


        I think we've discovered the secret identity of amanfrommars...


  5. Don Jefe

    Phone calls with no insane fees on planes are an awful idea. I say put the talkative people and children under 25 on their own planes or in with the luggage. But the phones are probably inevitable anyway, sigh...

    What really pisses me off are the insanely dysfunctional operations of our government. Everybody's always engaged in willy waving contests that have no real effect on their pay or their actual power, they just like being the ones that get to say OK. It's pure childlessness.

    There's some ridiculous number of agencies involved in every commercial flight in the US, like 13 or something. That's fucking lunacy. All that bullshit constantly going on and once a year everybody has the audacity to act gob smacked when there's no money.

    Getting away from a military hierarchy in government operations was a terrible mistake. The current system gives sniveling weaklings a defensible position from which to spew petty dictates. A position they would be incapable of gaining, much less holding, if there were any sort of 'no pussies' minimum standard. All races, sexes, colors, creeds, ages, sexual orientations and religious affiliations accepted, but no pussies. It's just a better way.

    We wouldn't even have to put together a system to identify the unsuitable people. Nature has already given us the skills we need. The first person to pop off with some bullshit like 'you may control the airwaves, but you don't control the planes' would be torn limb from limb and their colleagues would make wind-chimes from their bones. You would know if you were a suitable employee for a given agency if you weren't intimidated by the number of bone wind-chimes hanging outside the office.

    It wouldn't be perfect, but the chances of it being any worse are slim. It would certainly be more entertaining.

    1. Euripides Pants
      Thumb Up

      Upvote for the wind chime mental picture...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No need for laws or regulations here. Just spread the word that the NSA will be listening in on all in-air cell calls.

    1. Tromos

      @AC 06:29

      I rather think the annoying callers don't mind their calls being listened in on, after all, they make great efforts to ensure every single one of their fellow passengers can hear.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: @AC 06:29

        Can't remember where I originally heard it, but someone involved in security recounted a tale of when they were in a train carriage with a woman who was conducting several transactions on the phone at standard mobile-phone volume. After one or two such calls, in which she was giving all sorts of personal details, account numbers, dates she would be travelling etc, he began to take down the information, and then texted her (on the number that everyone in the carriage now knew very well) all the information he had about her just based on what she was shouting to the world. Apparently, she stood up and very angrily asked who had been listening to her calls ... all the hands in the carriage went up. She then proceeded to rant about how it was rude to listen to other people's private conversations ...

        (If anyone knows the original of this story, I don't think I've embellished it much. If I have, apologies.)

        1. Bootman

          Re: @AC 06:29

          Even more annoying is the constant stream of dickheads listening to music so we can hear it through headphones (and in some cases phone speakers) which blight our trains like parasites. Should be considered as unacceptable as smoking on public transport (in fact I personally find smoking less irritating).

          I do remember one guard saying to a typical "gangster" type playing some R&B type trash 'listen sunshine, the rest of the carriage don't want to hear your girlfriend's music, so either it goes off or you're off', which did the trick.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is not unreasonable

    If the FCC was banning their use due to safety concerns, and the safety concerns have been shown to no longer be (or never have been) an issue, the FCC has no grounds on which to leave the ban in place.

    The DOT hasn't had to ban them before because they were already banned, doing so would be like passing a law that it is illegal to kill someone in a grocery store, when there are already laws against murder that would apply to that situation

    But once the FCC lifts the ban, the DOT can ban them for other reasons, like the fact that having people incessantly babbling on about stupid stuff 10" from each ear from takeoff to landing will cause many of us to want to hijack the plane and powerdive it into the ground to stop the madness.

    1. The last doughnut

      Re: This is not unreasonable

      I always thought the real reason for the ban was because mobile phones are not licensed for airborne use. The cellular system breaks down when mobiles are used high up, because each can communicate with far more cell basestations than a ground-based mobile can. This causes a lot of interference and effects large numbers of users over a large area.

      I'm sure someone will downvote me for suggesting this.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is not unreasonable

        I've heard that too, and maybe that was true back in the days of analog cell phones since they were higher power. After they went digital they could have removed the restriction if that was the only reason.

        A friend of mine who does avionics work insisted that cell phones could interfere with flight control systems, despite all the evidence to the contrary (i.e. the fact that many of us would sometimes forget to turn off our phones, along with people who just like to flout the rules, means that pretty much every takeoff and landing will occur with a few phones powered up) I remember hearing that Nokia tone coming from the overheard compartment during takeoff and landing plenty of times, as we all have.

        More recently the ring comes from people's pockets, and is no longer a Nokia the world changes :)

        1. DainB Bronze badge

          Re: This is not unreasonable

          "the fact that many of us would sometimes forget to turn off our phones"

          There's also the fact that no one ever turns off ground base stations for plane takeoffs and landings which, as any intelligent visitor of this forum might guess, are way more powerful than mobile phone and just as capable to reach avionics on a plane as they are capable to reach mobile phone on the same plane.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            @DainB Re: This is not unreasonable

            Please report to room 101 for a refresher course on the inverse square law.

            The RF effect of 20W even 100 feet away is not even 1 millionth as strong as 300mw in the passenger's bag in an overhead bin, right next to a skeleton slot antenna for the instrument landing system - let alone if the 20W transmitter is 1/2 mile away.

            As Father Ted might say: "Small. Far away"

            Bearing in mind that if the phone and the transmitter really are 500 feet apart, that 20W becomes <1W and the 300mw drops to <1mW (and lower still if closer together) - this is why putting a mobile base station on a school roof (or any other location where the phones are concentrated) is actually a good idea if you're concerned about the RF exposure of your little darlings.

      2. Don Jefe

        Re: This is not unreasonable

        The 'real' reason is that airline safety regulatory agencies actually do a pretty damn good job of making sure plane crashes are a very rare and newsworthy thing. There's a lot of bullshit and unnecessary expenses and hurdles, but as far as government agencies go they're remarkably effective the world over. Your dentist has a much better chance of killing you than an aircraft, and it sure as hell isn't the aircraft manufacturers that are responsible for that.

        A side effect of all that, is that changes in anything move slower than pitch. Glass cockpits and the resultant huge increase in instrument reliability, have been around since the 70's, but getting the instruments completely through the system took two decades and more. They're still upscale upgrades on new aircraft.

        When you combine a super slow regulatory system, and an insanely new technology, like mobile phones, the delays are guaranteed to be epic. Look at the mobile phone industry itself, they can't even agree internally on what the phones can and can't do. They're also really, really new things. I was in my first executive role and making a lot of money in the early 90's when I got my first mobile phone that wasn't in a bag or wired into a car. It was Star-Trek levels of advanced technology. Try combining something like that with agencies that wouldn't approve non-mechanical altimeters and fuel gauges for decades and you can be assured nothing is going to happen.

        Besides, the phone companies wouldn't pay for testing for regulatory approval anyway. They aren't the least bit concerned about the few extra minutes of air time you'll use onboard a plane. They don't care, at all, so there was never any external pressure either.

        1. DainB Bronze badge

          Re: This is not unreasonable

          "Besides, the phone companies wouldn't pay for testing for regulatory approval anyway. "

          I'm more than sure that few manufacturers of ground cell base stations do pay for testing and certification of their transmitting equipment and it in fact does not affect any plane systems, otherwise you would either do not have any reception in 20km radius around any major airport or witness planes crashing on landing and takeoffs every single day.

          1. Don Jefe

            Re: This is not unreasonable

            That's not the way communications and electronics interference compliance works. They pay for the same testing all FCC certified devices and systems undergo. It is as much on the aircraft systems as it is on the base stations to not interfere with each other, or anything else. What you're saying is that aircraft systems are completely unsheilded, which I can assure you is not the case.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: This is not unreasonable

      The FCC ban was never for safety reasons. It's totally about non-interference with base stations.

      Analog phone channels were reused every 3 cell spacings. A single phone over 5000 feet in the air using one channel can quite effectively blot out dozens of other cells (depending on cell size of course)

      Put more than a couple dozen phones in the air in any given area and you now have a quite effective denial of service attack against the comms infrastructure for that region.

      THAT'S why "Oh I used my phone in an aircraft and there was no trouble" exists - yes it works but it doesn't scale. It's why all those 9/11 passengers were able to make calls to loved ones too (there weren't that many airborne phones in use, in the overall scheme of things). It's perfectly legal to use a mobile phone under 5000 feet AGL, so using it in your friend's Cessna 172 doesn't count.

      Digital phones use a combination of TDM and FDM, so it's a bit more complicated (GSM won't work for handsets travelling in excess of 200mph relative to the base - that's a deliberate design decision to shut down airborne phones and prevent them interfering with ground-located base station.

      FAA/CAA rules allow airlines to set pretty much whatever the hell rules they like on top of any which are in place to prevent possible interference with aircraft systems. The big fear for mobiles is and always has been interference with precision approach systems (but it's never been proven to be a problem).

      Banning noisy chatters on aircraft is straightforward in the onboard cell systems being touted. Simply hit the "quiet" switch and all voice comms are killed, leaving people only SMS functions. Any law is a solution in search of a problem.(*)

      (*) If a stewardess tells you to shut the hell up and stop annoying fellow passengers it's a good idea to pay attention. Whilst she may only be 5'2", failure to follow instructions will result in people who have little sense of humour greeting you at the landing gate - if you're not handcuffed and quite possibly gagged in the meantime (all 100% legal). After that happens, the odds are pretty good that you'll find you're persona non-gratia on any commercial aircraft in the world - airline no-fly lists are harder to get on than USA federal ones, but are widely shared and you'll have trouble getting a commercial flight even in outer bumfuckistan if you find yourself on one of those. (no conviction needed. Airlines don't like unruly passengers. Theyr'e a danger to everyone else onboard if shit hits fan)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More laws. @!$@%%@

    If it's not unsafe, let people do it. Let the free market figure it out. If enough people don't like phones, there's a new market for 'no phone' flights or airlines. Please don't regulate my choices, we have wasted years while airlines have told us 'it might interfere with our systems' while we as passengers just yawned, thought "you have no credibility with anything else you tell us now" and left phones switched on in our bag.

    If you've ever sat next to a couple traveling together, then you've experienced the same situation as someone on a phone. And judging by the price of every other option, I'd expect the calls to be exorbitant. Lets face it, most of us fly coach or economy class, and the screaming baby 5 rows up is way more annoying than someone talking two seats away. We buy noise cancelling headphones and watch a movie.

    Please regulate things that need regulation - safety issues, security issues; and let the market do its thing.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: More laws. @!$@%%@

      You know what this is right? It's one of those 'if you're in a crowded space and can't find the obnoxious asshole yelling into their phone, the obnoxious asshole is you', situations.

      If we actually had free markets, folding and storing people like you under the seats would be greatly rewarded. Instead, our system protects and encourages raging asshats to act like dicks and there are no repercussions for you. That's not a free market, that's a breeding ground for inferior children.

    2. Colin Wilson 2

      Re: More laws. @!$@%%@

      Crikey! The only reasonable voice in this thread, and you've got 12 down-votes(!). Have an up-vote from me

  9. davemcwish

    Reminds me on that great scene from The West Wing


    Mr. Ziegler? A message was just patched up to the cockpit for you. I'm not sure I've got it right. POTUS in a bicycle accident?


    [stops typing and looks up] You got it right. [reaches for his cell phone]


    You can't use your phone until we land, sir.


    We're flying in a Lockheed eagle series L-1011. It came off the line 20 months ago and carries a Sim-5 Transponder tracking system. Are you telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?


    You can call when we land, sir.


    [calling as she walks away] Also, I never got my peanuts.

    1. Bob Wheeler

      Re: Reminds me on that great scene from The West Wing

      A great series, some of the best writing on TV on many a year.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Two words...

    Dom Joly.

  11. Christoph

    Phones on planes is OK

    You're quite welcome to make phone calls on a flight that I am on. Provided of course that you step outside to do so.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Phones on planes is OK

      outside? you mean the smoking section?

  12. Annihilator Silver badge

    Yet again

    Yet again, missing the point that you can already make bloody phone calls from a plane via the inbuilt ones that nobody ever uses.

    Not to mention, Virgin Atlantic already offer an inflight pico-cell to make calls from your mobile at international rates.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Yet again

      Ignoring the fact that the people who actually have valid reasons for talking on a phone while inflight already have the means to do so without the airlines assistance, the built in phones were never anything more than a novelty. When they were rolled out mobile phones were still something from the movies, most people didn't even have cordless phones at home. A phone in a plane! That's amazing, look how advanced the airlines are! Their biggest value was as a plot device in action movies.

      Besides, the built in phones aren't being put back into many planes after interior refurbs/refits. The revenue from inflight calls has never offset even the labor costs of installing them. The actual handsets and processing equipment put the whole thing forever into the red with no hope of even recovering costs.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Yet again

        "The actual handsets and processing equipment put the whole thing forever into the red with no hope of even recovering costs."

        That - and consumer resistance to the eyewateringly high charge rates.

        Did they really think enough people would pay $6-20/minute making airborne calls to cover the cost of the installations? Honestly?

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