FCC to consider allowing cell phone calls on flights

Text and talk in the air?
Text and talk in the air?


    Text and talk in the air?


Text and talk in the air? 02:19

Story highlights

  • The FCC is considering allowing cell phone talk aboard aircraft
  • The rule would apply only above 10,000 feet
  • Individual airlines could decide whether to allow cell phone conversations

Making a cell phone call while aloft could become a reality under a proposal by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Cell phone calls, texting and other mobile services would be allowed when the aircraft are flying above 10,000 feet, but not during takeoff and landing, according to an official briefed on the proposal.

Airlines would have to equip planes with special antennas approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration before passengers could start talking.

The commission says this proposal aims to give airline passengers the same communication access in the air that they have on trains and buses or in coffee shops.

What should become of Airplane mode?

"Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. "I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers."

For years, the FCC has banned talking on mobile phones aboard aircraft in flight due to concerns that high-flying phones could disrupt cellular towers on the ground.

A proposal to lift the cell phone ban was considered in 2004 but abandoned three years later. At the time, the FCC said that the "technical information provided ... was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground."

A number of other nations around the world already allow cell phone use inflight on similarly equipped aircraft.

FAA allowing most electronic device use throughout flight

In a 2012 study, the FAA collected data from 11 countries and concluded that "civil aviation authorities reported no confirmed occurrences of cell phones affecting flight safety on aircraft with on-board cellular telephone base stations."

The commission is considering the proposal because passengers want it, but some surveys show passengers are split.

In a survey conducted in 2012 by Delta Air Lines, 64% of passengers said the ability to make phone calls inflight would have a negative impact on their onboard experience.

The current proposal will be discussed at the FCC's December 12 meeting and could then be opened for public comments. The commission would have to vote on a final rule before it could take effect.

If the FCC gives final approval, individual airlines could choose whether to provide mobile service to passengers.

      24 hours in world's busiest airport

    • A view of a jet out the window of the Atlanta airport.

      ATL24: A day in the life

      For 24 hours, we made the world's busiest airport our destination and found a world unto its own. Join us on our journey. What you see will surprise you.
    • Shannon Nevin, 4, waits at gate A21 of the Atlanta airport for a flight to Savannah, Georgia.

      Big moments on the move

      A bittersweet blend of joy and heartache is all too common at the world's busiest airport, where moments of love and loss are carried like precious cargo and unwieldy baggage.
    • No ticket to ride, nowhere else to go

      Amid the travelers and workers are those who don't belong — especially after midnight, when the airport gets quiet. Police and medics offer compassion along with a firm hand.
    • A server at One Flew South in the Atlanta airport walks through a doorway into the kitchen.

      They make the airport work

      They clean the floors and toilets. They serve you that much-needed drink between flights, and then release you to those who ferry you safely through the air.
    • Friends and family await the arrival of Holly Houston at the Atlanta airport.

      Awkward farewells and heartfelt hellos

      Departures and arrivals create little bursts of fanfare. And at ATL, where most travelers are changing planes, time-killing strategies are varied. Airport spa or whiskey shots, anyone?
    • A Southwest Airlines employee checks paperwork after unloading baggage at the Atlanta airport.

      Your life and luggage are in their hands

      They clear planes for takeoff, track storms and make sure that package you ordered arrives on time. Once you meet them, you'll never look at an airport the same way again.
    • Place of peace shaped by time of war

      Troops made the airport a military crossroads. Now, it's a spot where recruits meet before going to basic training. Their mission is the same, though: Keep America safe.
    • Atlanta airport employees participate in a Foreign Objects Debris walk.

      Searching for what doesn't belong

      Fish in a suitcase, a cow's head and a giraffe bone — oh, and don't forget the guns, bugs and drugs. Officers and dogs sift and sniff travelers' bags for contraband and explosives.
    • Life of one plane

      It will make six flights in 12 hours, cover 1,800 miles and carry 500 passengers, four pilots, six flight attendants -- and two reporters. Oh, the stories this 717 could tell!