WASHINGTON - Just because it's safe to use cellphones on a plane doesn't mean passengers should call just to say hello.
That argument played out Thursday across Washington as one government agency moved closer to removing its prohibition of in-flight calls while another said it would consider imposing its own ban.
The Federal Communications Commission voted, 3-2, to start a months-long public-comment process to remove its restriction.
"There is a need to recognize that there is a new technology," Chairman Thomas Wheeler said. "This is a technical rule. It is a rule about technology. It is not a rule of usage."
But the Department of Transportation, which oversees aviation, is not so sure that permitting calls "is fair to consumers."
"Over the past few weeks, we have heard of concerns raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress, and others who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cellphones in flight - and I am concerned about this possibility as well," Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
The DOT will consider imposing a ban as part of its consumer-protection role.
Calls during flights have been prohibited for 22 years over fears that they would interfere with cellular networks on the ground. Technological advances have resolved those concerns, which is one reason Wheeler wants to repeal the rule.
But even Wheeler acknowledged the potential annoyance factor.
"I'm the last person in the world who wants to listen to somebody talking" while flying across the country, Wheeler told a House subcommittee Thursday.
The FCC proposal comes just 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.
An 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. An additional 30 percent are neutral.
Delta Air Lines is the only airline to explicitly state that it will not allow voice calls regardless of what the government allows. Delta says years of feedback from customers show "the overwhelming sentiment" is to keep the ban in place.
The nation's largest flight attendant union also opposes allowing voice calls, saying cellphone use could lead to fights between passengers.