FCC chairman: Cell phones on planes? You need to sit in coach

Today, the FCC proposed allowing people to use their cell phones on airplanes, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. 

The commission has been inundated today with emails and phone calls, I’m told. Rather than applauded for updating our antiquated regulations, the commission has been hit by a collective wail of “No!”

The new FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, a former cable industry and telecommunications lobbyist, has been stirring things up in Washington. He’s talked tough to carriers about unlocking cell phones. And now this.

But while it may make sense to update communication regulations to fit the modern era, our experience tells us this is a bad idea.

My last two experiences flying coach cross country have been notable because both times there have been mini fights among passengers near me about who knocked whose chair first.  The flight attendants professionally handled the situations but for the rest of us, thousands of feet from earth, it was unnerving. On a flight from Boston to San Francisco, just as the wheels of the plane touched the ground and people whipped out their phones, another person nearby proceeded to have a fight with whomever she called.

I bring it up because imagine adding cell-phone chatter to that cramped, claustrophobic experience. Shouldn’t an airplane ride be a no-drama zone?

This isn’t the first time the idea has been proposed. Last time was in 2004. Flight attendants and the public then had a strong negative reaction that helped kill the proposal in 2007, according to the Journal.

Reaction this time was swift. Delta Air Lines has said it wouldn’t allow calls from planes, while Jet Blue Airways said it would reevaluate its policy, the paper said.

The FCC will take up the issue at its December meeting. Meanwhile, I would recommend that Wheeler and the other commissioners fly cross country in coach, preferably in the back. Imagine, sir, phone chatter around you as people struggle to maintain their precious personal space.


At top, in this Oct. 31, 2013, file photo, a passenger checks her cell phone before a flight in Boston.  (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)


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