WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to deciding whether airline passengers can use their cellphones in flight, federal agencies are sending different signals to consumers.
The Transportation Department, which regulates aviation consumer issues, indicated in a notice posted online Friday that it is considering retaining the 23-year-old ban on the calls, and asked for public comment.
Two months ago, the Federal Communications Commission voted to pursue allowing the calls. The FCC has responsibility for determining whether the use of cellphones in flight would interfere with cellular networks on the ground.
Polls show that many passengers, particularly frequent fliers, oppose allowing in-flight calls from passengers' cellphones. Echoing their concerns, the Transportation Department said it believes allowing passengers to make cellphone calls "may be harmful or injurious" to others.
"People tend to talk louder on cellphones than when they're having face-to-face conversations," the department said. "They are also likely to talk more and further increase the noise on a flight, as passengers would not be simply talking to the persons sitting next to them but can call whomever they like."
Some planes already have seat-back phones, but they are rarely used, the department said, adding that the concern "is not about individual calls, but rather the cumulative impact of allowing in-flight calls in close quarters."
Delta Air Lines told the government last year that 64 percent of its passengers indicated that the ability to make phone calls in flight would have a negative impact on their onboard experience.
The FCC has already received more than 1,200 public comments on its proposal, almost all of them opposed to lifting the ban.
Among the most ardent opponents of lifting the ban are flight attendants, who worry that phone conversation will spark arguments between passengers and even acts of violence.