Shuster Introduces Legislation to Ban In-Flight Mobile Calls; Senate Bill Ahead

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By Heather Caygle  

Dec. 9 -- House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) introduced a bill that would prohibit in-flight mobile phone use, just days before the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to consider lifting the current ban.

Shuster's three-page bill, introduced Dec. 9, would direct the Department of Transportation to issue regulations preventing passengers from using mobile phones for voice communications during the takeoff-to-landing period. Flight crews would be exempt from the rule.

“For passengers, being able to use their phones and tablets to get online or send text messages is a useful in-flight option. But if passengers are going to be forced to listen to the gossip in the aisle seat, it's going to make for a very long flight,” Shuster said in a statement. “For those few hours in the air with 150 other people, it's just common sense that we all keep our personal lives to ourselves and stay off the phone.”

Shuster's bill is the Prohibiting In-Flight Voice Communications on Mobile Wireless Devices Act of 2013 (number not yet available).

A spokesman for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the senator will introduce similar legislation later this week.

“Imagine two million passengers, hurtling through space, trapped in 17-inch-wide seats, yapping their innermost thoughts,” Alexander said in a Nov. 26 statement. “The Transportation Security Administration would have to hire three times as many air marshals to deal with the fistfights.”

Dec. 12 FCC Meeting

Shuster's bill comes in response to an FCC announcement that the agency will review the current ban on in-flight phone calls during its Dec. 12 meeting. If the FCC lifts the ban, the decision to allow in-flight calls would be left up to individual airlines, though the FAA would have to approve whatever system the carriers would install to make the calls possible.

Shuster is not the first lawmaker to express opposition to lifting the ban. Reps. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) have circulated a “dear colleague” letter to Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta expressing concerns about the impact on flight experience and safety.

“Simply put, the flying experience in the United States would be forever changed for the worse if voice calls are allowed on flights,” Cohen said in a statement.

Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) are also distributing a letter urging the FCC to maintain the ban, writing that they are “adamantly opposed to the use of cellular voice services during flights.”

“In light of public opinion and potential safety implications, we ask that you reject any proposal to permit airline passengers to use cellular voice services on airborne planes,” they wrote.

Among aviation stakeholders and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, support for allowing such calls is also lagging. In a statement released shortly after the FCC announcement to consider the proposal, Wheeler said he would prefer for calls not to be allowed during flight.

“We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I feel that way myself. Ultimately, if the FCC adopts the proposal in the coming months, it will be airlines' decisions, in consultation with their customers, as to whether to permit voice calls while airborne.”

Flight Attendants Support Ban

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the largest flight attendant union, also opposes in-flight calls, saying the change could create passenger conflicts and pose significant safety risks.

The FAA recently changed its rules to allow passengers to use portable electronics during takeoff and landing, except to make voice calls.

Shuster and Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.) sent a letter to the FAA Dec. 5 calling on the agency to submit a long-overdue study on the impact in-flight calls would have on passenger experience and safety. The study was supposed to be submitted to Congress in November 2012 but has yet to be completed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Heather Caygle in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

The bill text is available at