A battle is brewing in the court of public opinion and in Congress over whether US passengers should be allowed to use cell phones in-flight as many foreign airlines now permit but which critics say is unsafe and annoying.
Advocates of in-flight cell phone use hope to overturn bans that they say are outdated, unfair and do nothing to promote safety in the skies.
Their opponents, however, argue that radio signals from cell phones could disrupt key plane function
They are also quick to note that the incessant talking of loud and inconsiderate cell phone users would make flights unbearable for flyers who prefer quiet.
Some lawmakers want to ban cell phone use in US air space permanently. But at least one travellersâ€™ rights group sees a day when the United States and US airlines will follow examples set in Europe and other places where cell phone calls are permitted on flights.
â€œThe point is it works in the international market,â€ said Carl Biersack, executive director of In-flight Passenger Communications Coalition.â€œIt doesnâ€™t need a legislative ban. It needs the regulators to do their thing,â€ Biersack said. â€œItâ€™s a market that I think Americans want.â€
Two government agencies have banned the use of cell phones on US commercial flights.
The US Federal Aviation Administration says cell phones and other portable electronic devices may give off radio signals that can affect aircraft communications, navigation and flight control. The risk is higher when the signals are in large quantities and for long durations, the FAA says.
The US Federal Communications Commission banned in-flight cell phone use in 1991 to avoid interference with ground networks.
Meanwhile, a group of legislators, including Representative James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has included a provision in the House-passed FAA reauthorisation bill that would prohibit cell phone use on planes by anyone other than flight crews or law enforcement personnel.
The provision is not included in the Senate version and prospects are remote that Congress will pass legislation this year authorising permanent funding for FAA programmes.
The Air Transport Association, which represents US airlines, has said that if allowed by the FAA, it would be a carrier-by-carrier decision whether to allow passengers to talk on cell phones in flight. This stance is almost identical to the one taken by the International Air Transport Association.