WASHINGTON – As the din of cell-phone chatter continues to spread in public areas,Americans say they strongly oppose allowing cell-phone use in one of the most crowded of public places – airplanes.
In a survey released Thursday,63 percent of respondents said they do not want airlines to allow in-flight cell-phone use. The Federal Communications Commission is considering lifting the ban. One-fifth of survey respondents said they favor that action.
“Just think about being confined in an aluminum tube,several thousand feet above the ground,with no place to go to get away from the person next to you,across the aisle,behind or in front of you,chatting away on their cell phone,” said Patricia Friend,president of the Association of Flight Attendants,which is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America,at a press conference.
The AFA-CWA commissioned the telephone survey of 702 respondents,conducted last week by Lauer Research Inc. The margin of error was 3.7 percent.
The FCC may lift the ban if it determines that in-flight cell-phone use will not disrupt ground cellular communications. The Federal Aviation Administration,however,has the final say. It bans the use of portable electronic devices during flight due to potential signal interference with flight and navigational systems. No change in the policy could occur until after the expected December 2006 completion of an FAA-commissioned study.
Survey respondents,however,said their main concern is with poor phone etiquette. Sixty-eight percent said noise and disruption would be the worst aspect,while 21 percent cited safety issues. An even greater proportion – 76 percent – of business travelers said they fear noise and distraction if cell-phone use is allowed.
“One of the reasons the FCC gives for wanting to lift this ban is to help business travelers to get more work done on airplanes,” Friend said,“but clearly the business traveler is saying,‘No thank you.'”
Friend added that flight attendants generally oppose allowing cell-phone use due to added stress of policing confrontational passengers who might be upset by others' phone conversations.
If the FCC gives airlines a green light for wireless technology on planes,signals from all instruments such as cell phones,pagers,BlackBerrys and laptops would be routed through a “pico cell” base station on each plane.
Tim Wagner,a spokesman for American Airlines,said the airline conducted a test flight with this technology in July,but introducing it as a standard feature on planes is at least 18 months away.
“We know that customers want wireless communication on aircraft,up to and including cell phones,” he said. “That could include two-ways,pagers,BlackBerrys,as well as Internet access. We're looking at wireless communications as a whole. There are some social implications,and we recognize these concerns among a certain portion of the population.”
Wagner said options could include designated periods during flight that cell-phone use would and would not be allowed,or designating portions of the cabin as quiet sections,similar to quiet cars found on some Amtrak trains.
Friend expressed doubt that quiet sections would work on airplanes,however,alluding to airlines' past failed attempts to designate smoking and non-smoking sections.
In the main terminal of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport,a few ticket-holders waiting for flights Thursday afternoon echoed the survey results.
“You don't want to hear everyone's conversations,” said Linda Marshall,40,of Frederick,Md. “You don't want to be on a plane and hear someone talking on the phone all the way from D.C. to California.”
Ricky May,45,of Frankfort,Ky.,said wireless Internet use would be good “especially for people who have work to do,” but said cell phones could be annoying.
“Depending on who you're sitting next to,it might be a long flight,and I might not want to hear their conversation,” he said.