House committee moves to ban in-flight cell phone use

The House Transportation Committee approves a bill that would prohibit in-flight cell phone use for good.

Quiet please: A House committee has moved to prohibit in-flight cell phone use.
Kent German/CNET Networks

A House of Representatives committee threw another hurdle into the path of in-flight cell phone use Thursday, when it voted to ban the use permanently. By a voice vote, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace(or Hang Up) Act, which was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

The legislation, which now moves to the full House for consideration, would prohibit "voice communications using communications devices on scheduled flights," with exceptions for flight crew members and a federal law enforcement officer acting in an official capacity. In-flight texting, Wi-Fi, and e-mail on airplanes would not be affected.

In a statement, DeFazio said that not only is cell phone use aloft an annoyance, but also that airlines should be stopped from using in-flight talking as a potential revenue source. "With airline customer satisfaction at an all time low, this is not the time to consider making airplane travel even more torturous," he said. "Polls show the public overwhelmingly doesn't want to be subjected to people talking on their cell phones on increasingly over-packed airplanes." During the hearing, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) lodged a dissenting voice, saying, "You are trying to legislate courtesy, folks, and that just doesn't work."

In the past few years, the federal government has not looked kindly at in-flight calling. The Federal Communications Commissions, with support from the Federal Aviation Administration, already bans in-flight cell phone use, but the agency has the power to revisit the issue at any time. The Hang Up Act, however, would write the prohibition into federal law.

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Industry reaction is mixed for now. Though the Airline Transport Association, the industry's main lobbying arm, is not backing the bill, the Association of Flight Attendants, and some consumer groups are supporting a ban on sky-high cell chatting.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the European Union's equivalent of the FAA is moving toward allowing cell phone use on intra-European flights. Air France has already conducted a study of in-flight cell use on one of its aircrafts, albeit to mixed results; Ryanair, Emirates, and Qantas are considering allowing cell phone use as well. Yet, those airlines could also be subject to the Hang Up Act on flights to the United States.