Delta Air Lines won't allow cellphone calls on planes, CEO says

The chief executive of one of America's largest airlines vowed to keep phones silent on flights, despite some rumblings in Washington about lifting the ban on cellphone calls.

Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson told his employees Wednesday that the airline won't allow cellular or Internet-based calls, regardless of any changes in policy by the Federal Communications Commission.

He is not the first. Southwest Airlines, the nation's largest domestic carrier, also announced recently that it won't allow cellphone calls but, it will offer its passengers Internet service on most planes from takeoff to landing.

United Airlines said in a statement Wednesday that it was still evaluating the views of its passengers but, for now, the airline plans to continue banning phone calls from its planes.

American Airlines has yet to take a position on the future of onboard phone calls.

The FCC voted last week to consider lifting the ban on cellphone calls from planes, saying modern technology can keep calls from disrupting navigation and communication systems.

To lift the ban, the FCC must accept and consider comments from the public for a 60-day period, starting after the rule change proposal is published in the federal registry. That is expected to take place in the next few days.

Already more than 200 members of the public have submitted comments at the FCC rule-making website.

FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler said if the agency lifted the ban, it would still be up to individual airlines to install the technology needed to allow cellphone calls from airborne planes. He added that airlines could ban voice calls but allow passengers to use phones for sending email and text messages and surfing the Internet.

In a memo to employees, Anderson said research showed that most Delta passengers consider voice calls on planes to be disruptive.

"In fact, a clear majority of customers who responded to a 2012 survey said they felt the ability to make voice calls onboard would detract from — not enhance — their experience," he said. "Delta employees, particularly our in-flight crews, have told us definitively that they are not in favor of voice calls onboard."

Flight attendant unions have opposed allowing cellphone use on planes, saying calls could lead to disputes in the cabin and make it difficult for crew members to get the attention of passengers during safety announcements.

But even if the FCC lifts its restrictions, other federal officials may take action to keep phones silent on planes.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has issued a statement saying his department might consider adopting a ban on cellphone calls after an outcry over the FCC's plan to consider the proposal.

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