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 Thursday, holding the first of several meetings 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 New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has called the current rules "outdated and restrictive."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.
Just because technology has advanced, it doesn't mean that 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 finds 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.
Among those who fly, opposition is stronger. Looking just at Americans who have taken more than one flight in the last 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 among 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 or not to allow calls.
Delta Air Lines is the only airline to explicitly state that it won't allow voice calls. Delta says years of feedback from customers show "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.