Jet noise: It’s too early to permit cellphone use on planes

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Other than perhaps a screaming baby, someone carrying on a loud and inane cellphone conversation might be the last person you’d want to sit next to on an airplane. Yet last week, the Federal Communications Commission voted to start the process of authorizing airlines to allow passengers to use mobile wireless devices above an altitude of 10,000 feet.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates air safety, isn’t so sure. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, whose department oversees the FAA, said he is looking at banning voice calls on flights. Bills that would outlaw cell-phone conversations on planes are before both houses of Congress.

FCC officials acknowledge they have been inundated by negative feedback since the agency began considering the proposal. It’s time for airlines to ask their customers what they think.

Intense price competition in recent years has caused U.S. airlines to reduce services and comfort. Air travel, once considered a luxury, is now too often the stressful equivalent of sitting in a flying intercity bus. Being forced to endure others’ phone conversations would complete the circle of misery.

One compromise would ban cell-phone conversations but allow passengers to send text messages and surf the Internet while they are aloft. This issue requires more study, of both safety implications and impact on passengers. The FCC should be in no hurry to change the rules.

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