News

You Won't be Able to Make Cell Phone Calls on an Airplane Anytime Soon

Shutterstock/Sam Blum

Flying through the sky in a pressurized metal tube is hardly a comfortable experience. Couple limited legroom with recycled air and turbulence, and traveling hardly occupies a romantic place in your mind. But one of the last great solaces of flying, a prohibition of in-flight cell phone calls, appears to be more firmly in place after the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) ended consideration of a proposed lift on the ban Monday.

In 2013, the FCC floated the idea of repealing the ban on cell phone calls onboard commercial flights, which was first implemented in 1991. In large part, the prohibition on cellular service is a holdover from an earlier era, when cell phone signals posed the threat of muddying communication between air traffic controllers and pilots. Nowadays, though, there are cell phone towers onboard most planes to accommodate in-flight entertainment, meaning you could theoretically hold a conversation at high altitude for as long as you want, pending your phone has enough juice.

But on Monday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated in no small terms that people deserve peace and quiet on airplanes: “I stand with airline pilots, flight attendants, and America’s flying public against the FCC’s ill-conceived 2013 plan to allow people to make cellphone calls on planes. I do not believe that moving forward with this plan is in the public interest. Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet.”

The ban is expected to pass an FCC vote, overriding former chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal, which called to “expand consumer access and choice for in-flight mobile broadband,” in light of “outdated and restrictive rules.”

This is all to say that it was never all that convenient to make calls while blasting through the ether on a crowded flight in the US. But given the tenor of things at the FCC, it appears like you won’t get the chance for the foreseeable future.  

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Sam Blum is a News Staff Writer for Thrillist. He's also a martial arts and music nerd who appreciates a fine sandwich and cute dogs. Find his clips in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Club and Vice. He's on Twitter @Blumnessmonster.