WASHINGTON – As federal regulators consider removing a decades-old prohibition on making phone calls on planes, a majority of Americans who fly oppose such a change, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.
The Federal Communications Commission will officially start the debate today, holding the first of several meetings scheduled to review the agency’s 22-year-old ban. New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has called the current rules outdated and restrictive.
Technology has advanced to the point where in-flight calls – relayed first through a special system on planes – won’t overload cell towers on the ground. As a result, Wheeler has said, there’s no reason the government should prohibit in-flight calls.
The FCC proposal comes weeks after the Federal Aviation Administration lifted its ban on using personal electronic devices such as iPads and Kindles below 10,000 feet, saying they don’t interfere with cockpit instruments.
But just because technology has advanced doesn’t mean etiquette has. Many fliers fear their fellow passengers will subject them to long-winded conversations impossible to avoid at 35,000 feet.
The Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday found that 48 percent of Americans oppose allowing cellphones to be used for voice calls while flying; just 19 percent support it. Another 30 percent are neutral.
Among those who fly, opposition is stronger. Looking just at Americans who have taken more than one flight in the past year, 59 percent are against allowing calls on planes. That number grows to 78 percent among those who have taken four or more flights.
Interestingly, you can count Wheeler in the opposition.
We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself, he said in a Nov. 22 statement.
The chairman went on to say that his intention is for the airlines – not the government – to make the decision whether to allow calls.
Delta Air Lines is the only airline to have stated explicitly that it won’t allow voice calls. Delta says years of feedback from customers shows that the overwhelming sentiment is to keep the ban in place.
American Airlines, United Airlines and JetBlue Airways all plan to study the issue and listen to feedback from passengers and crew.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted from Dec. 5 to Dec. 9, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel. For results based on all 1,367 adults, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Sampling error rises to 5.4 percentage points for results among 560 people who have taken at least one flight in the last year.