Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cell Phones on Planes

Lots of people have opinions about why cell phones should or should not be allowed on commercial flights. The FCC currently bans their use because the signals could interfere with the cell networks. This makes sense. The networks are designed to pass phones from tower to tower at fairly low rates corresponding to cars driving well under 100 MPH. Suddenly add lots of fast-moving phones in the air, and the network may be spending so much time on the overhead of traffic handling that service may suffer. Also, the signals from the towers and phones is normally restricted to the horizon. On a plane, the phones will hear and transmit to towers much further away, increasing the likelihood of interference.

The FAA bans cell phones because they may interfere with the instruments on the plane. Personally, I feel that if any of the electrical systems on a plane are that delicate, they should be fixed or replaced, but there's no need to have a plane crash in protest. The FAA's reasons are perfectly reasonable.

But recently, the FCC re-affirmed their policy of not allowing phones on planes. During the decision-making process, many people wrote to the FCC asking them to maintain the ban for reasons that are entirely out of the FCC's jurisdiction. People don't want to be trapped on a plane for hours with some idiot yelling into their cell phone, and I don't blame them. But that's not a decision for the FCC. Maybe, it could be a decision for the FAA, as mass annoyance of a captive audience may cause violence. Or is that the Air Marshals' problem? (Giving them the responsibility to ban cell phones on those grounds, if necessary, IMHO.) Maybe the airlines would end up banning cell phone use or asking individuals to keep quiet, just as they would hush a loud conversation between passengers if it bugged others.

I guess it's the American Way to pick your side of an argument and use all means necessary to support it. I'm sure if the FDA suggested banning cell phones because the plane is a large metal box and the radio signal strength inside is large enough to cause cancer, people would write to them about noise, too.

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