There’s a big danger in the skies once again and it rests in the palms of our hands. Yes, those smart phones may be weapons inciting danger in the air, but not for the reasons you might expect.
A group of (mostly Democratic) members of Congress are imploring federal agencies with management and oversight of the air traffic to ban the use of cell phone calls during flights.
In a letter to the heads of Transportation, Homeland Security, Justice, and the Federal Communications Commission, 77 members of Congress raise fear of fights among passengers breaking out as the primary concern for allowing phone calls in mid-air. If permitted, passengers might start talking too loudly and disrupting their neighbors who would turn a peaceful flight into a rodeo. Flight attendants and pilots would be disrupted from their normal work as they would spend their time breaking up fights and mediating disputes.
To strengthen their case they also threw in that wireless technology and broadband access may tamper with avionics, flight controls or aircraft operating systems. They suggest a multi-agency assessment to study if any of these are indeed possible. They do cite one legitimate concern: terrorism, which really is the only issue that should be taken seriously.
But is this really a big to-do about nothing?
The Hill reports:
“Passengers making voice calls during flight could impact the ability of crewmembers — flight attendants and pilots — to perform their jobs, keep passengers safe and the cabin environment calm,” lawmakers wrote in a letter coordinated by Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.).
“Arguments in an aircraft cabin already start over mundane issues, like seat selection, reclining seats and overhead bin space, and the volume and pervasiveness of voice communications would only serve to exacerbate and escalate these disputes,” they added.
Multiple flights have been diverted due to fights over passengers reclining their seats.
Additionally, the lawmers warned that wireless devices could cause interference or otherwise scramble airplanes’ mechanics.
The FCC and DOT have made seemingly conflicting moves on in-flight cellphones. The FCC last year proposed lifting its ban on talking on cellphones on flights, while the DOT has signaled that it would step in to ban phone calls.
The lawmakers seemed supportive of the DOT's plan to ban calls.
What is the likelihood of passengers getting into fist-to-cuffs over talking on cellphones? Let’s look at another mode of transportation where cell phone talking occurs: trains.
As CNBC reports, if we look at commuter trains as a guide, there are few “freak outs” when passengers begin talking on the quiet train cars, but far from an epidemic. Amtrak officials, for example, can point to few reported incidents because they are few and far between. When incidents do occur, they are enforced generally by riders themselves. You’ll infrequently find a rowdy video or post online but those are selections of the most dramatic incidents and are the exceptions rather than the rule.
We take no position in this blog post on whether or not the cell phone ban should be lifted on airplanes, but Congress has far more important issues to worry about than taking steps to prevent what is not a problem and may never become a problem even if the cell phone bans are lifted.
Washington likes to fix what isn’t broken and break then it. Perhaps the people who need to hang up are lawmakers pursuing inane policies.