You can use your smartphone to perform all manner of tasks from the moment you board an airplane until you reach your final destination. But it looks like making a phone call during your flight will remain on the verboten list.
And with that, a grateful nation lets out a sigh of relief.
That's the word from the Wall Street Journal at any rate, which reports that the Department of Transportation is getting closer to formalizing a ban on in-flight calls. That's based on comments made by the general counsel for the DOT during a speech last week and confirmed by the Journal when it contacted the agency, which says it's likely to publish a "notice of proposed rulemaking" in December. That's Bureaucrat Talk for a proposed rule that the public and airline industry will get a chance to comment on before a final policy is put into place.
The past year has seen a Prague Spring of sorts for the use of mobile devices on airplanes. Last October, the Federal Aviation Administration reversed a decades-old policy to let travelers use electronic devices during takeoffs and landings. Shortly thereafter, the Federal Communications Commission said it couldn't see any reason not to allow in-flight phone calls, to which the Department of Transportation said, "We'll be the judge of that."
Now you, hard-charging road warrior, may not see any problem with whipping out your mobile phone and knocking off a business call or five during that transcontinental flight; the other people seated in and around your row might have different ideas, however, and that seems to be at the heart of the Transportation Department's inclination to keep those phones in Airplane mode for the duration of your time in the air. Tapping out emails and IMs to people over the plane's Wi-Fi is one thing, after all; yakking for hours on end to the consternation of the poor schmoe wedged next to you in the middle seat is quite another.
For what it's worth, the Journal says that airlines would prefer the Transportation Department would butt out of this, with an industry spokesman telling the paper that some carriers may want to experiment with services like in-flight phone booths or quiet sections on the plane. My guess is that any airline that tried out in-flight phone calls would cause a stampede of passengers--clamoring to book flights on rival airlines where they could maybe count on a few hours of relative peace and quiet.