Holding the line on cell phones in flight

Local,Andrea Farnum
Are you ready to talk away on your cell phone at 40,000 feet or eager to listen to your seatmate do the same?

Americans are divided on whether cell phones should be allowed during flights, with people age 65 and older more likely to oppose their use than those between 18 and 34, according to a recent U.S. Department of Transportation survey.

“I can't take the cell phone chatter when I'm on the ground,” said Rosa Galvez, a frequent flyer from Ellicott City. “Listening to the mindless talking already drives me insane — I can't imagine how it would be on a plane.”

While European and Middle Eastern carriers press forward with plans to offer in-flight mobile connectivity, the United States is far behind the curve. Both the Federal Communications Commission and the FAA maintain a ban on the in-flight usage of mobile phones. Some legislators have even thrown their support behind a bill called the “Hand-Up Act,” which prohibits the use of mobile phones on planes because of the public nuisance they create.

“It's important that we don't make what is already a crowded and difficult environment for the traveling public and flight attendants worse by allowing cell phone use in-flight,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), sponsor of the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace (HANG UP) Act.

Despite opposition, technology is inching its way past regulators and is manifesting itself in other ways.  Southwest Airlines is testing a satellite-generated Internet connection, and British Airways is touting Blackberry and mobile check-in.

“I often remind people what the Web experience was like back in 1999 and 2000,” said Chris Carmichael, innovation and planning manager for British Airways. “I expect the whole customer expectation and experience with technology in planes to be very different in the next few years.”

Even with Congress threatening to ban in-flight cell phone use permanently, some say cell phones are just as irritating as crying children, loud music, snoring or even talking. “You can't possibly ban every annoyance,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). “Trying to legislate courtesy just doesn't work.”

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