Even If FCC Relaxes Rules, Delta Won't Allow In-Flight Calls

Delta CEO Richard Anderson says frequent flyers believe voice calls in the cabin would disrupt travel. So the airline announced it will ban in-flight calls even if the FCC changes the rules.

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If you ever fly, you've heard it countless times: You cannot use your cellphone while en route to your destination. Federal rules will not allow it. That could change now, as the FCC considers relaxing those rules. But in advance of that decision yesterday, Delta Airlines said it plans to remain committed to high altitude quiet time.

Here's NPR's Kathy Lohr.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Delta CEO Richard Anderson says frequent flyers believe voice calls in the cabin would disrupt travel. So the airline announced it will ban in-flight calls.

HENRY HARTEVELDT: So, I think this is a smart decision.

LOHR: Henry Harteveldt is a travel industry analyst with Hudson Crossing.

HARTEVELDT: And I think what it shows is that Delta recognizes its customers want to stay in touch, but more through data than voice.

LOHR: If the FCC lifts it ban on using cellphones in flight, Delta says it will allow passengers to text, email and use other silent ways to transmit data from gate to gate.

The flight attendants union and others have opposed the idea of allowing cellphone conversations, noting it would increase noise and tension among passengers, and could compromise safety. Thousands of consumers and members of Congress have complained. As a result of Delta's decision, this holiday airline safety video could change, but maybe not by much.

(SOUNDBITE OF DELTA VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Once airborne, we'll let you know when you can use approved electronic devices, but note: Some items may not be used in flight at any time.

LOHR: The FCC is seeking public comment. Even the agency's chair Tom Wheeler recently said he wouldn't want to be stuck next to a loud passenger blabbing during a flight. But he said the agency saw no technical reason to block voice calls. And another federal agency, the U.S. Transportation Department, says it might ban in-flight calls, ending the debate altogether.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

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