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What others say: Airlines should make their own decisions on cellphone use

Posted: January 5, 2014 - 2:22pm

Cellphones are not cigarettes, although it is easy to understand why some of us want to be as free from listening to disembodied conversations as we are from secondhand smoke in confined spaces.

The five largest U.S. airlines have weighed in against the removal of Federal Communications Commission restrictions on the use of cellular phones in flight. Customers are against it, they say, as are most of their employees.

As Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson said, “Delta employees, particularly our in-flight crews, have told us definitively that they are not in favor of voice calls on board.” No surprise there. What flight attendant wants to try to separate someone from his or her inalienable right to talk on the phone?

While the FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, personally agrees that problems could arise, earlier this month he said, “I get it. I don’t want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else.” But he added, the FCC is charged with regulating the technology, not social convention.

The airlines do not want to be the arbiters, or invest in the technology needed to support cellphone use, but the federal government should not enforce a blanket ban on cellphones.

Cellphone conversations are not the health hazard that secondhand smoke is, and airlines should make their own decisions on how obtrusive technology is used on board their flights, not Congress. The Department of Transportation should give the responsibility to each airline on how they restrict cellphone usage.

It is too infrequent that regulators ease their restrictions, and we should not be too quick to relinquish choices to a political and bureaucratic infrastructure that we may later regret.

Technologies change, and airlines might find solutions that work for all, but not if legal and regulatory hurdles prevent even thinking about innovation.

— The Tennessean, Nashville, Tenn.,

Dec. 26

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