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FCC Ends Debate Over Cell Phone Calls on Airplanes

FCC Ends Debate Over Cell Phone Calls on Airplanes
Joe Cortez

After a seven-year debate over whether or not American flyers should be allowed to use their cell phones to make calls from airplanes, the Federal Communications Commission has put an end to the discussion. With proceedings terminated, flyers won’t be allowed to legally use their phones for calls when in flight for the foreseeable future.

Another outgoing federal official is making a mark on the aviation industry, by closing a seven-year debate on how cell phones should be used on aircraft. The Federal Communications Commission formally closed the docket on expanding mobile phone use to aircraft on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, keeping cabins a call-free environment.

Calls on Aircraft Opposed by Flight Attendants and Pilots On Safety Concerns

In the two-page document formally ending consideration, the FCC noted they “declined to pursue” the rulemaking process after collecting feedback from multiple stakeholders. While comments from the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA sent to outgoing FCC chairman Ajit Pai noted safety concerns, the replies from mobile phone providers and aviation technology companies were split on how to approach the topic.

“There is strong opposition to the Commission’s proposals from many commenters in this proceeding, including our nation’s airline pilots and flight attendants, who argue that it ‘fail[s] to address significant safety and national security concerns,’” the FCC order reads. “And, although there is some support for expanding access from a variety of entities, commenters vary dramatically as to approach.”

Several international airlines, including Aeroflot, Emirates and Etihad Airways allow flyers to use cell phones for voice calls through technology providers OnAir and AeroMobile. However, the FCC notes that there is evidence of successful calling from airplanes around the world, the commission would require more “technical studies based on U.S.-specific standards” before opening the door to U.S.-based carriers.

Although the FCC holds the responsibility for ending the rulemaking proceeding starting on Dec. 12, 2013, flyers who don’t want to be subjected to their seatmate talking on the phone can also thank Congress. In the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation was required to prohibit the use of cell phones for voice calls. The FCC notes the act as part of their reasoning for formally closing the docket.

Closed Rulemaking Process Second Aviation Regulation in Lame Duck Session

The FCC closing the book on cell phone usage for calls in the United States is the second regulation to be passed by government entities affecting consumer aviation. On the same day, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced codified definitions for “unfair” and “deceptive” practices, which may skew future decisions in favor of airlines and ticket agents.

View Comments (13)


  1. edgewood49

    December 1, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    Now there’s a ruling we can agree on.

  2. patch8

    December 1, 2020 at 8:05 pm

    AMEN !!

  3. MRM

    December 2, 2020 at 5:23 am

    Finally a smart move. There’s ZERO reason for passengers to run their yappers for hours on end on flight in tight spaces. People should use their phones where they’re SUPPOSED to use their cell phones for private/business callss: grocery stores, elevators, restaurants and movie theaters.

  4. StrongEagle

    December 2, 2020 at 9:10 am

    Thank you, Jeezuz! Last thing I need is loudmouth Mike sitting next to me for three hours, yammering away about nothing.

  5. shadesofgrey1x

    December 2, 2020 at 9:43 am

    OMG the Fed made a sensible decision! But, of course its December and HEL has literally frozen over!

  6. BC Shelby

    December 2, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    …crikey I hat it when I’m on a city bus or tram and the person behind me is on the phone having an argument with his/her SO or whoever.

  7. azmojo

    December 2, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    As long as we stop pretending it’s about safety.
    Now, what about texting? That should be allowed.

  8. GoProf

    December 3, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Great decision.

  9. ok2uselane

    December 4, 2020 at 6:15 am


  10. SamirD

    December 4, 2020 at 9:23 am

    So I guess for life and death scenarios where you have a signal–go ahead and make the call?

  11. glob99

    December 7, 2020 at 5:26 am

    So I can still do TikTok. Hooray!

  12. AlwaysFlyStar

    December 15, 2020 at 2:59 am

    Seems like something that should be left to the airlines. Perhaps they could even have a separate ‘calling section’ of the plane. While I personally am not particularly in favour of people on their phones on a flight, I also don’t see a reason for it to be illegal…

  13. pulokk1

    December 18, 2020 at 6:50 am

    “Perhaps they could even have a separate ‘calling section’…”

    You can’t be serious. They’re loud inanities would carry through the whole cabin. Texting: fine.

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