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New bill to fight in-flight cell phone chatter

I have a hard enough time resisting the urge to strangle passengers yapping on their cell phones on my daily subway commute, so I’ve watched with growing alarm as cell phone use on airplanes gets closer to reality. Numerous airlines have been testing mobile phone use on flights, and last week the EU approved passenger use of cell phones on airplanes. Just imagine six hours of listening to your seatmate chatter with her friends about last night’s American Idol or hearing the businessman behind you discuss his new sales initiative in such detail that you could make his presentation to the company board. You’re on a plane—there’s no escape!

Thankfully, at least one member of Congress thinks cell phone use on planes within the U.S. is a bad idea. On Tuesday, April 13, Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon proposed the “Hang Up Act of 2008,” legislation that would ban passengers from making voice calls in the air.

“The public doesn’t want to be subjected to people talking on their cell phones on an already over-packed airplane,” DeFazio said in a statement posted on his website, which also noted that in polls, Americans overwhelmingly favor a cell phone ban. “However, with Internet access just around the corner on U.S. flights, it won’t be long before the ban on voice communications on in-flight planes is lifted. Our bill, the HANG UP Act, would ensure that financially strapped airlines don’t drive us towards this noisome disruption in search of further revenue.”

DeFazio’s bill would prohibit in-flight voice calls but permit Internet use, emailing, and text messaging. The FAA already bans cell phone use on aircrafts, citing potential interference with plane navigation systems. However, according to the The Oregonian, new technology being developed would allow passengers to make and receive calls through special onboard receivers that would not interfere with the aircraft’s other systems. The airlines could, of course, charge passengers to use the service.

While some people posting comments to news stories about the bill complain that the decision to allow cell phone use should be made by the individual airlines, not the federal government, DeFazio believes carriers would not make the best overall choice for travelers. “The free market wasn’t adequate to regulate smoking on planes and it won’t be sufficient to regulate cell phones either,” says DeFazio. “I am pleased that we are taking steps to stop this disruption before it becomes an issue for American consumers.”

I agree. The airlines are too desperate for money right now to put the interests of the average flyer (who doesn’t support onboard cell phone use) above a potential revenue source. Besides, with hardly any air marshals on U. S. flights these days, who’s going to break up all the fist fights at 30,000 feet?

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