DoT’s proposed Ban on Cell Phone Use on Airplanes is Unwise, at best

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Cellphones On Planes

The below article indicates that the US Department of Transportation is about ready to issue a regulation banning the use of cell phones on airlines. Maybe we are missing something, but we thought that the DoT cannot do that.

Perhaps the DoT staff was not around in 1978 when the Congress passed the Airline Deregulation Act. The point of that historic legislation was to remove the federal and state governments from controlling routes, rates and service as the Civil Aeronautics Board did from 1938 until its demise in 1984. The prohibition of cell phones, with no valid claim that the action is based on safety, seems to fall within this exclusion.

The House Transportation & Infrastructure is considering new legislation that would ban use of cell phones on airplanes; because it has that authority to write such standards. The fact that Congress has such a bill before it should indicate that such a rule is beyond the powers of the DoT.

Assume for a moment that the DoT can regulate cellphone use, how would they mandate that prohibition? Would it compel the airlines to do so? That is not a rule which can be enforced before the passengers board; so the responsibility to stop phone calls would fall on flight attendants. Please note DoT: the addition of non-safety related duties on the cabin crews is a matter of negotiation between the airline and the flight attendants’ union. Such a DoT mandate would likely add to the cost of a ticket.

It has been reported that some airlines are considering a cell phone use option on their flights. The point of deregulation was such a possibility—that the carriers should compete on their services, rates and route offerings. Maybe Delta chooses not to allow passengers to talk on their phones and Jet Blue would say YES. That was what the ADA was intended to do: allow the companies to test the market and suffer the consequences and/or enjoy the benefits of their decisions.

Just consider the complications when the flight attendant approaches an “offending” cell phone user and the passenger claims that he was listening to a video on his PED or that he was asking an Apple Siri a question. No matter what entity prohibits the inflight phone calls, it will be a difficult rule to make effective and may distract the cabin crew from their safety and passenger convenience assignments!

Maybe Congress will pass a bill banning inflight cell phone dialogues because the general populace demands such protection. That would be an appropriate exercise of its legislative powers. The history of deregulation and the 1978 Act’s language either indicates that the DoT should/can not issue such regulations.

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