Retain the FCC's ban on cellphone talk during flights

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In the 1970s, when smoking was still allowed on U.S. airlines, I witnessed two grown men get into a fistfight in the aisle because one man was a smoker and the other was not. The altercation was a testament to the fact that in a confined space such as an airplane cabin, one person's actions can affect hundreds of people.

OUR VIEW: Cellphones on planes? Let marketplace sort out rules

Back then, airlines feared losing smokers, so Congress stepped in to do what market forces could not. It enacted a popular ban. Now the Federal Communications Commission is challenging fliers' wishes again by announcing that it will consider allowing another unpopular nuisance on airplanes: letting people talk on cellphones midflight. The FCC would do better to keep the ban on cellphone calls.

Like smoking, the public is not in favor of chatter. Numerous surveys, including one in 2012 by the Airline Passenger Experience Association and the Consumer Electronics Association, show that more than 60% of Americans oppose in-flight phone conversations.

I understand the need for people to be connected, even on a short flight. That's why I support new options for airline passengers to safely use wireless data for non-voice services such as text messaging, e-mail and Internet browsing. But personal conversations are different. The last thing anyone needs is to be stuck between one stranger recapping his wild night in Las Vegas and another describing his latest surgery.

Some people argue that customers will still have a choice. The theory goes something like this: If you don't like an airline's policy allowing people to talk on phones in flight, don't fly that airline. After all, you can choose, right? Wrong. Many small airports and even some larger hubs are dominated by one airline. Frequent business travelers who have hectic flight schedules, as well as families on their way home for Thanksgiving, may have very limited options. Should those passengers just not get a choice?

As for flight attendants, they definitely don't get a choice. If their airline opts to allow cellphone conversations, they get to add one more requirement to their job: playing referee to an increasingly aggravated cabin full of passengers. When that happens, the safety of everyone on that flight suffers.

It may be technologically feasible to have a phone conversation during a future flight. But like lighting up a cigarette in the cabin, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., is a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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