Airlines in the US could soon allow their passengers to make phone calls and use data connections while in the air, and today is the final day for opinionated fliers to let regulators know whether or not they think that's a good idea. The change all comes down to the approval of a recent FCC proposal, which would allow airlines to begin installing equipment onboard planes to make phone use possible. The commission stresses that it's purely deciding the technical merits of installing such equipment — not the social ramifications — but it's been taking feedback for the past 60 days in part to determine whether their are any public safety or national security issues it should be considering.
The FCC will only approve the technical ability to allow phone calls
Presumably, reports of potential technical issues might be more valuable than complaints about not wanting to listen to noisy passengers, but the latter is about all the FCC has gotten. It's received over 1,000 responses so far, though many of those are frequent fliers writing that they would hate to be stuck in a cabin with others talking on phones nonstop. "I have a right to silence and peace in the airplane," one commenter writes. "It’s bad enough that the moment we land, people start making calls to outsiders that are very, very, very, annoying. I can’t imagine that on the entire trip." Though the FCC's initial call for responses ends today, there will still be a chance to add your voice in the future: you'll be welcome to argue against any of these comments with a reply by March 17th, and other responses can still be filed beyond that.
Ultimately, the FCC won't actually make the decision as to whether you can make a call on any given flight, just whether airlines will be allowed to let you at all. Should the FCC approve the new rules, equipment to enable phone calls will still have to receive FAA approval and airlines will still have to install the equipment and set up their own procedures. Some airlines have already shown hesitancy toward allowing phone calls, and Delta has even come out and said that it won't allow calls even if the proposal is approved.
Calls on planes also face some threat from the Department of Transportation, which has suggested that it could ban the practice if it felt that allowing phone calls was not "fair to consumers." It's a bundle of reasoning that may sound strange to anyone who travels internationally, where allowing calls on planes has been implemented successfully for some time now. That should suggest a favorable outcome to the FCC's technical review — but whether other regulators and airlines themselves will choose to work with the relaxed rules is a whole other hurdle.
Correction: an earlier version of this article stated that the FCC has only received 40 responses to its proposal. It has actually received over 1,000. The article has also been updated to note the time period for reply comments.