FCC Keeps Plane Cell Phone Ban for No Apparent Reason

The FCC has decided to continue the ban on use of cellular phones while in flight. They still have no plausible reason for doing so.

Federal Communications Commission has officially grounded the idea of allowing airline passengers to use cellular telephones while in flight. Existing rules require cellular phones to be turned off once an aircraft leaves the ground in order to avoid interfering with cellular network systems on the ground. The agency began examining the issue in December 2004.


In an order released Tuesday, the FCC noted that there was “insufficient technical information” available on whether airborne cell phone calls would jam networks on the ground.

While I’m happy not to have people yapping on their infernal cell phones while I’m crowded on an uncomfortable plane, this is nonsensical. Given that there is NO EVIDENCE that cell phones can jam networks on the ground, wouldn’t it seem reasonable that the burden of proof would be on those who want to ban them?

Then again, this is the Government we’re talking about, so they don’t need no stinking logical explanations. After all, after I’ve been forced to check my luggage lest I conceal explosives in my over-three-once vial of shaving gel, watched my wife have to throw away a perfectly good bottle of water so that she’ll have to buy an identical one at three times the price on the other side of the magic security window, and walked around the airport in my socks because some idiot unsuccessfully hid a bomb in his shoes, being deprived of my cell phone is the least of my worries.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Science & Technology, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Philosophically, it may be more practical to assume it is dangerous and have to prove it is ok rather than the other way around, but far be it from me to defend the government’s insatiable appetite for regulations meant to give the illusion of safety rather than actual safety. I can’t see how the attenuation through an airframe of a signal generated by a cell phone can screw things up on the ground, but stranger things have happened. I wonder though if they’ll make it retroactive and take it up with the families of those on Flight 93.

    Maybe the FCC choose this excuse rather than have the FAA have to deal with the inevitable problems that will occur if they allowed cell phone use on planes (escalating levels of rude behavior, yelling, accidentally spilled drinks, fistfights, etc.). As it is, before takoff, if someone is being rather loud and annoying on their cell phone while sitting next to me I take out a pen and paper and start very obviously taking notes of everything they say. They occasionally get huffy but it does tend to abbreviate their calls somewhat. It amazes me that people can’t comprehend that their phone conversations in a tight, enclosed space isn’t radically different than Eddie Murphy in “48 Hours” singing The Polices’ “Roxanne” with his headphones on, just slightly more annoying.

  2. Triumph says:

    Then again, this is the Government we’re talking about, so they don’t need no stinking logical explanations.

    More explicitly, these are Big Government liberals who are making these decisions. The FCC is crawling with Clinton-ites who are trying to shove their latte-sipping values down the throats of America.

    FCC head Kevin Martin was hand chosen by Hillary, Pelosi, and Murtha to institute draconian regulations in an effort to appease their Massachusetts elitist friends.

  3. legion says:

    My understanding is that cell phones passing rapidly overhead can play havoc with the routing & switching protocols of ground cell antennae, but have pretty much no effect whatsoever on aircraft systems (despite the FAA’s repeated blocks on the idea).

  4. phreshone says:


    I’ve heard a similar explaination about cellular companies being the ones who do not want cell phone usage on planes

  5. mrbill says:

    Actually they were intent on giving the OK but they were inundated with outraged business travelers that DID NOT want it. The obnoxious users have soured the public on their use more and more. More businesses are putting up wire impregnated wallpaper and special iron filing paint that block ALL wireless signals.

    The FCC said they had never had so much traffic asking them NOT to approve their use in airplanes.

  6. nhmind says:

    Evidence or lack thereof, as a very frequent flier, I’m delighted that this is going nowhere fast. I can’t even imagine the cacophony created at 32,000 feet with dozens if not hundreds of in-flight cell calls going on. On this issue, I’ll continue to encourage the FCC, FAA and any other agency or airline to use fake data, lack of data or any other form of data to keep those cell phones off, until we’ve moved off the active runway and are taxiing to the gate.

  7. Tano says:

    Yeah, you tell ’em James. We should do away with all that security crap. Who needs it anyway? Like someone else is going to try to smuggle some explosives in their shoes? Hah!

    Or if they really need to have some security (just to appease the gov’t unions no doubt) the least they could do is train them in the famous Bush techniques – you know, the “look into his soul” xray technique – that can tell at a glace whether someone is a good Republican non-terrorist type person.

    But no, these people act like there is some sort of a war going on or something. Sheeesh.

  8. James Joyner says:


    I don’t think anyone outside TSA even pretends that these measures are going to prevent serious terrorist plots. They’re a CYA measure designed to give the illusion of protecting us. And, for most of us, we don’t even get the illusion since we can’t suspend disbelief that well.

  9. Erica says:

    Is there any likelihood that the airlines would still prohibit cellphones – at the request of their frequent flier base – if the FCC were to allow their use in-flight? Take the Amtrak Acela as an example – they have instituted quiet cars (which in my experience have varying levels of quiet and there are always at least one or two cell phones ringing) at the request of business passengers. However, many could argue that it would be helpful if the use of data transfer devices (blackberries, wireless internet) only were permitted.

    I would argue that cell phones are just as obtrusive as smoking on board an aircraft – a captive, unwilling audience.