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June 2012
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BAN IT DOT pursues right path on cellphones in flight

In the first season of the TV series "Breaking Bad" the central character has a number of encounters with a loud-mouthed narcissist who drives a BMW with the plates "I Win" and is perpetually blathering in public on his cellphone.

Heroically, the lead character spots the jerk's car at a gas station and, while the latter is inside spouting off, shorts the BMW's battery causing the car to explode and catch fire.

While we don't generally applaud vandalism, we get it. By and large people are put off by those who insist on making others an unwilling audience to their arcane and tedious cellphone conversations, to the point where more than a few have to summon restraint to maintain civility.

This is why, although we also generally don't applaud government regulation of personal conduct, we favor the U.S. Department of Transportation's effort to ban cellphone calls on airplanes.

According to several media reports, the DOT is preparing a "notice of proposed rulemaking" in which it will spell out objections to allowing passengers to make or receive phone calls in flight. Airlines and travelers will have until February to comment on the proposal before a final rule is issued.

The specter of passengers being able to make and receive in-flight calls was raised last December when the FCC voted 3-2 to lift its ban on in-flight cellphone use. The FCC ban had existed for technological reasons - primarily a concern the phone could interfere with an aircraft's electronic navigation systems. But those concerns were obsoleted by newer technology.

However, almost immediately upon the lifting of the FCC ban, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx indicated his agency would get involved for a more practical reason: people talking on cellphones in close quarters are annoying.

Foxx said he believes (and we think he is correct) that passengers and flight crews are overwhelmingly against in-flight phone use. We can see why. The airplane environment is volatile enough these days as it is. The airlines continue to cram ever-larger Americans into ever-smaller seats as if they were Vienna sausages. Take oversized passengers fighting for space on the armrest, add a few crying babies and a departure that is 30 minutes late and there is already a volatile environment. Throw some loudmouths on their cellphones into the mix and, well, you get the picture.

Flight crews already deal with their share of unruly passengers, sometimes to the point that flights are diverted and those passengers are forcibly removed. It's an all-too-common occurrence.

Ironically the airlines are opposed to the DOT getting into the act. They believe they should be allowed to decide for themselves on cellphone use. Some apparently are considering establishing the equivalent of phone booths on their flights or "quiet zones" to try to keep the peace between chronic cellphone blabbers and normal people who can't stand them.

We're not often on the side of regulators but we're with the DOT on this one. Do the world a favor and ban cellphone calls on U.S. flights. Regulate away. Most of us already beleaguered air travelers will thank you for it.

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