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DeFazio sponsors bill to ban cell phone conversations on planes

Dec 11, 2013
Press Release

Washington, DC – Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-04) is now the lead Democrat on a bipartisan bill, the Prohibiting In-Flight Voice Communications on Mobile Wireless Devices Act of 2013, to prohibit wireless voice services on commercial flights above 10,000 feet.

The bill, introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, is a response to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent announcement that it would review, and possibly reverse, the current ban on mobile wireless services on airplanes. While Rep. DeFazio supports the use of cell phones on airplanes for non-voice services such as text messaging, email or internet browsing, he is adamantly opposed to cell phone calls during flights. This is consistent with public opinion. Numerous polls, including a 2012 Apex/CEA poll, show that more than 60 percent of Americans oppose cell phone calls on planes.

Rep. DeFazio has long been a leader on this issue. In 2008 he introduced the bipartisan HANG UP Act, which was the first bill in Congress to prohibit cell phone calls on planes.

“Imagine being stuck between two passengers who are carrying on personal phone conversations. There is absolutely no escape. How long will it be before a fight breaks out mid-flight?” DeFazio asked. “Furthermore, it’s irresponsible to leave flight attendants on their own to deal with hostile situations. The flight attendants, who are the first responders in the event of an emergency, should never be distracted by a hot-headed passenger who refuses to end an inappropriate conversation.”

In addition to co-sponsoring the legislation, Rep. DeFazio will send FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler a letter with the signatures of 60 House members, asking the FCC to keep its ban on cell phone calls on planes.  The letter will be sent in advance of the December 12th meeting, during which the proposal will be discussed.

The full text of the letter to Chairman Wheeler is below.

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

We respectfully ask that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) not open the door to wireless voice services being used by passengers on airplanes above 10,000 feet. It has come to our attention that on December 12th the FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to revise current rules governing mobile wireless services on airplanes. We are in support of new options for airline passengers to safely use wireless data for non-voice services such as text messaging, email, and internet browsing; but we are adamantly opposed to the use of cellular voice services during flights.

The majority of Americans have rejected the idea of cell phone calls during flights. Numerous polls, including a 2012 Apex/CEA poll, have shown that over 60% of Americans are opposed to the idea. Some polls, such as a recent Today Show instant poll, have shown overwhelming 90% opposition. Regardless of technological feasibility, it is evident that Americans do not want to fly in a cabin full of people talking on cell phones.       

Even if the FCC were to find that cell phones on airplanes did not cause any signal interference, airborne cell phone conversations would have other safety implications.  It has been demonstrated that people talking on cell phones were much less likely to aid someone in need*. Numerous other studies have demonstrated that cell phone conversations are particularly irritating and distracting to people nearby. The combination of these factors could make it much more difficult for crewmembers to give instructions and count on passenger assistance during an emergency. Altercations between passengers over cell phone use could also result in flight attendants having to act as referees to mitigate “air rage.”

As is stated on your website, the FCC provides “leadership for consumers, public safety, accessibility, competition and technological and economic opportunity.” We urge you to not forget about the first item on that list, American consumers. Consumers would benefit from new opportunities to use wireless devices for non-voice activities on airplanes, but they have made clear that they do not want their seatmate to be talking on a cell phone for the entire flight. In light of public opinion and potential safety implications, we ask that you reject any proposal to permit airline passengers to use cellular voice services on airborne planes.

* Banjo, Hu, and Sundar (2008). Cell Phone Usage and Social Interaction with Proximate Others. Penn State University.


Peter DeFazio, Michael Grimm, Timothy H. Bishop, Earl Blumenauer, Madeline Z. Bordallo, Robert A. Brady, Julia Brownley, Lois Capps, Michael E. Capuano, Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper, Gerald E. Connolly, Jim Costa, John J. Duncan Jr., Keith Ellison, Elizabeth H. Esty, Sam Farr, Tulsi Gabbard, Gene Green, Raul M. Grijalva, Janice Hahn, Michael M. Honda, Henry C. Johnson Jr., Walter B. Jones, David P. Joyce, William R.  Keating, Derek Kilmer, Barbara Lee, Sander M. Levin, David Loebsack, Stephen F. Lynch, Betty McCollum, James P. McGovern, David B. McKinley, Ann McLane Kuster, Patrick Meehan, Michael H. Michaud, George Miller, Patrick Murphy, Richard M. Nolan, Charles B. Rangel, Lucille Roybal-Allard, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Janice D. Schakowsky, Aaron Schock, Allyson Y. Schwartz, Carol Shea-Porter, Albio Sires, Jackie Speier, Eric Swalwell, Mark Takano, John F. Tierney, Dina Titus, Paul D. Tonko, Marc A. Veasey, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica S. Wilson, Peter Welch, Don Young