Feds Might Allow Airline Passengers to Make In-Flight Cell-Phone Calls

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Coming soon to a flight near you? Photo: Toby Burrows/Getty Images

Preparing for flight takeoff might soon include a higher likelihood that the guy sitting next to you will be jabbering away about something or other. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Department of Transportation has been reviewing whether to allow in-flight phone calls, and officials are leaning toward it.

There is some hope for anyone who doesn’t love the idea of hearing fellow passengers argue with their insurance companies: Any such federal policy would give airlines a chance to opt out, and if companies do not, they’ll have to notify passengers in advance — likely before booking a flight. Plus, pushback from passengers (the plan is subject to public comment) or airline companies might force the DOT to walk away from this idea, and aviation officials even could end up doing a 180 and just totally ban in-flight calls.

As the Journal points out, the technology is pretty much there to allow people to make phone calls from the skies, and it will keep improving —probably a big draw for frequent or business flyers. (Some foreign airlines already allow in-flight calls.) In the U.S., it’s basically the last transportation cell-service holdout, now that the subways have almost fallen.

Some travel-advocacy and flight-attendant groups are opposed for reasons of safety, and sanity. And companies such as Delta and JetBlue have said previously they don’t care what the feds decide: All calls are prohibited. That may change if competitors take advantage of potential rule changes. So enjoy it while it lasts, because you might get stuck next to this guy, who may or may not be joking: “I’m going to start saving all my billing questions and help-desk inquiries for the plane,” a Chicago-based sales specialist for GE Healthcare told the Journal. “My whole row can suffer with me on hold.”

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Feds Might Allow In-Flight Cell Phone Calls on Airlines