House Committee Passes Bill Banning In-flight Phone Calls

The bill would allow mobile device users to surf the Internet and send text messages

A U.S. House of Representatives committee has passed legislation that would prohibit mobile phone users from making voice calls during airline flights, despite a U.S. Federal Communications Commission move to allow in-flight calls.

The Prohibiting In-Flight Voice Communications on Mobile Wireless Devices Act, sponsored by Representative Bill Shuster, would allow mobile phone and tablet users to surf the Internet and send text messages during flights, but would ban voice calls in most cases. The bill passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by a voice vote Tuesday and now heads to the full House for a vote.

The bill would exempt members of the flight crew and law enforcement agencies from the ban on making voice calls during flights.

Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, introduced the bill in December, days before the FCC voted to move forward with a plan to allow airlines to permit passengers to use mobile phones during flights. The U.S. Department of Transportation has said it plans to consider its own ban on voice calls during flights.

Voice calls on flights would be distracting and annoying, said Shuster, chairman of the committee. It would be "common sense" to ban voice calls, he said during a hearing.

"Airplane cabins are noisy, crowded and confined," Shuster said. "Most passengers would like their flights to go by as quickly and as quietly as possible. Subjecting passengers to potentially multiple loud phone conversations ... would obviously diminish the comfort of any flight."

No one spoke out against the bill during the committee's hearing Tuesday.

Supporters of the bill noted broad public opposition to allowing voice calls during flights. After the FCC announced its move toward allowing the calls, "a chill went through the flying public and flight attendants nationwide," said Representative Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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