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Politicos: Let's ban in-flight cell phone chatter for good

Arguing that it's a public nuisance, Congress members want to ensure that it remains against federal rules. Internet use and text messaging would be permitted, though.

The thought of cell phone chatter on cramped commercial airplanes is so unappetizing to some politicians that they're pushing for a more lasting ban.

At the moment, of course, federal rules prohibit in-flight use of cell phones for safety reasons, and federal regulators have appeared loathe to reconsider that stance, at least in recent months.

The chief sponsors of the new Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace--or Hang Up--Act, say their measure is necessary to keep things that way, particularly with the European Union's recent move to allow cell phone use on planes and more U.S. airlines experimenting with on-board Internet access.

"The public doesn't want to be subjected to people talking on their cell phones on an already overpacked airplane," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), one of the bill's chief sponsors. "However, with Internet access just around the corner on U.S. flights, it won't be long before the ban on voice communications on in-flight planes is lifted."

The bill, which is also backed by Reps. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), John Duncan (R-Tenn.), and Thomas Petri (R-Wisc.), would limit its ban to "voice communications using a mobile-communications device," according to a copy seen by CNET Poll

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That means that as surfing the Internet, e-mailing, and text-messaging capabilities become available on planes, they'll be permitted. (JetBlue, for one, has been testing in-flight e-mail and IM, while American Airlines and Virgin America are among the companies planning on-board broadband for a fee.) Talking on a "phone installed on an aircraft" would also be allowed.

Costello, who serves as chairman of a House aviation subcommittee, plans to hold hearings on the bill as soon as possible, according to a Contra Costa Times report.

To back up their position, the bill's sponsors cited a recent survey by the Association of Flight Attendants and the National Consumers League that found 63 percent of respondents opposed in-flight cell phone use.

The airline industry, for its part, would prefer not to keep its options open. The Air Transport Association, which represents all the major airlines, said in a statement quoted by the Contra Costa Times that decisions about in-flight communications "should be made by the individual airlines, based on passenger needs and preferences."