In a moment of clarity, the United States Department of Transportation says it has plans to pursue a ban on in-flight phone calls. The Wall Street Journal reports that during a speech last week, the department’s general counsel, Kathryn Thompson, told members of the International Aviation Club that restrictions were in the works. A DOT spokesperson later confirmed Thompson’s comments.
A spokeswoman confirmed that the DOT is developing “a notice of proposed rulemaking” for publication in December. “At this point, there is no final determination” as to what the notice or the final rule will say, said another spokeswoman.
The DOT’s plan to pursue a ban on in-flight phone calls follows an FCC proposal to overturn current restrictions preventing airline passengers from both making cellular calls and using cellular data while off the ground.
Under existing rules, all cellular devices must be turned off when an aircraft leaves the ground. The policy has been in effect to prevent the devices from interfering with communication between the airplane and ground networks. However, 2013 saw the FCC relax its restrictions on cellular phone use, allowing electronic devices to be used during takeoffs and landings, if they are in Airplane Mode.
Although the FCC has been considering allowing passengers to make cellular calls while in-flight, the DOT, airlines, and many consumer groups have expressed concern over the loosening of the policy, cited the disruption such calls could cause. While airlines have generally been against in-flight cell phones, they say they should be the ones to make the decision, not the government.
The Department of Transportation is expected to release more information on any potential ban by December.