FCC chairman not a fan of cellphone calls on planes

A JetBlue Airways passenger checks his cellphone after landing at Long Beach Airport.
(Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)

A day after the Federal Communications Commission said it is considering lifting the ban on cellphone calls on planes, the head of the panel said he would prefer that cellphones remain silent on planes.

“We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement Friday. “I feel that way myself.”

But Wheeler pointed out that the FCC is simply considering taking an advisory position, saying there is no technical reason to ban calls from commercial planes.

If the FCC adopts the new proposal, he said, it will be up to the airlines to decide whether to allow cellphone calls. That has been the position in the European Union since 2008, he added.

The ban has been in place because of fears that cellphone calls from planes would interfere with the wireless network on the ground. Wheeler said technology available today makes such fears unwarranted.


The FCC is expected to vote on whether to move forward with the proposal during a Dec. 12 meeting.

Delta Air Lines has announced that it will continue to ban cellphone calls regardless of what the FCC decides.

“Delta has years of customer feedback on the impact on the customer experience and voice communications and the overwhelming sentiment is to continue with a policy that would not allow voice communications while in flight,” the airline said in a statement.

Flight attendants have been the most vocal opponents of lifting the ban, saying calls on planes would be disruptive, divisive and unsafe.