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FCC chair backtracks on allowing airline cell phone use

There's plenty of opposition to talk the FCC could soon approve cell phone use on airplanes. (AP image)

One day after striking a nerve with travelers by saying it was time to consider allowing cell phone calls on airplanes, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is backtracking and saying it should be up to the airlines.

“We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a Friday statement.

There was plenty of outrage and attention after Wheeler said Thursday it was time to review “our outdated and restrictive rules.”

But KIRO Radio’s John Curley says it should be up to the public to decide.

“You certainly don’t want the government in there determining the rules on this.”

Curley agrees with the FCC chair that airlines and passengers should have the final say.

Most airlines have said they would study the issue and survey their customers. Delta Air Lines was the only carrier to outright reject voice calls, regardless of what the FCC decides.

A petition opposing the FCC’s move posted on the White House website attracted nearly 1,250 signatures by Friday afternoon.

With mounting evidence cell phones don’t affect airplane operations, there’s been increasing pressure to allow their use in flight. The FAA recently approved the use of electronic devices like laptops and iPads throughout flights.

A big challenge for airlines will be balancing the demands of travelers who want to talk in flight with those who don’t want to hear them chattering away.

“Couldn’t you as a Libertarian say it’s our right, since there’s no safety reason?” co-host Tom Tangney asked Curley.

“Your right to swing your arm ends at tip of your nose,” Curley countered. “It’s the same sort of thing that my right to be able to have a conversation with somebody, protected by the constitution and all that stuff, ends at the beginning of your hairy ear hole, Tom, because it’s an annoyance to somebody.”

Tangney agrees cell phone use should remain banned in flight. But the frequent Metro bus rider is confident the peer pressure would be enough to keep most people off their phones, just like on the bus.

“You can tell people that don’t ride the bus a lot, they get on and they’re just talking,” Tangney says. “It just feels a little rude. There is this kind of socialized pressure that one shouldn’t do that.”

The FCC is scheduled to take up the issue at a meeting Dec. 12.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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