There's a certain behavior that commuters resort to when someone engages in a loud cellphone conversation while on light rail or the bus. One looks at their phone, or out the window, with studied nonchalance. Or, you may turn up the music/podcast on your own phone to drown it out. Occasionally (but rarely in Minnesota), someone will tell the offender to be quiet. (Generally not recommended.)
Can you image that scenario on an airplane? Oh, the indignity.
The prospect of cellphone use on airplanes has been bandied about for years. Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) floated a proposal that would require airlines and ticket agents to disclose to passengers in advance whether the carrier allows cellphone calls on board.
This would prevent passengers from being "unwillingly exposed to voice calls," Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said in a news release. Consumers "would be unfairly surprised and harmed" if they learned after buying a ticket that the carrier permits phone calls, DOT said.
So passengers would at least know in advance if their flight may prove even more miserable.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules now ban the use of cellphones on certain radio frequencies onboard aircraft. But these regulations do not cover Wi-Fi and other ways to make phone calls.
As soon as DOT's notice went out last Thursday, opposition to cellphone use on aircraft surfaced, including a missive from the flight attendants union.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said cellphone use would threaten aviation security and increase the likelihood of "conflict in the skies.
"The American public does not want voice communication in flight," Nelson said in a statement. "Anything short of banning voice calls is reckless."
Airlines for America, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group, says carriers should make the decision — not the transportation department.
When asked where it lands on the issue (sorry for the pun), Delta Air Lines referred to a 2013 memo written by former CEO Richard Anderson to employees. The dispatch indicated customer research showed phone calls "would be a disruption to the travel experience."
"Delta employees, particularly our in-flight crews, have told us definitively that they are not in favor of voice calls onboard," Anderson wrote. Delta is the dominant carrier at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The department is seeking comment on whether this proposal is a good idea, or if it should ban voice calls. You can comment within the next 60 days at www.regulations.gov using the docket number DOT-OST-2014-002.
In somewhat-related news, United Airlines last week announced that passengers who buy seats in "Basic Economy" won't be able to stow their carry-on bags in overhead compartments. Passengers who purchase the airline's lowest fares will only be allowed one personal item, which must fit under a seat. If they want to stow luggage in overhead bins, they must pay.
This prompted Sen. Al Franken to write a letter to DOT urging the department to work with the airlines, "to ensure that these kind of policies are reined in."
"This new approach, aimed at raising profits at the expense of travelers' comfort, is cause for concern, especially given that domestic carriers have enjoyed strong profits," Franken wrote.