- FCC chairman doesn't like calls on planes, but technology doesn't support ban
- Critics storm social media, saying in-flight cell phone calls a bad idea
- But supporters would like to text message and say phone calls would be helpful
- Meanwhile, airlines largely say they're still studying the proposal
As airlines prepare for possible in-flight cell phone calls under a Federal Communications Commission proposal, travelers were immediately loud and vocal Friday on whether the plan is a good or bad idea.
Even the FCC chairman was of a divided mind on the proposal, saying he personally opposed it, but that technology doesn't support a ban.
At the same time, commercial air carriers remained largely noncommittal on whether they would even allow cell phone calls, an option that would be granted to airlines under the proposed rule change.
Airlines would have to equip planes with a special antenna to allow the mid-flight phoning.
Among the traveling public, critics say the change would open a Pandora's chatterbox, but supporters say the change would be as liberating as freedom of expression itself.
"Bad idea! Can u imagine being on a plane of 100 + people & everyone on their phone!! Maybe allow texting but not phone calls!!!!" Joyce Goldman Newman wrote on CNN's Facebook page.
She found many people in agreement.
"Allow text and browsing, with talking only allowed during an emergency!" Judy McIntosh Arizpe also said on the social media page. "Pilots could have a secret button to push allowing calls in that event."
One opponent, Beth Coomer of Healy, Alaska, said she was ready to take a train, instead.
"So first they want to add more seats to economy and now allow talking on cell phones...great," Coomer wrote. "How affordable is taking a train? Even if the train is slightly more expensive and takes longer, it may be worth it . ..."
But another opponent said cell phone use on public trains is already bad enough.
"It's bad enough listening to people on Metro-North trains fighting over stupidity on a cell phone," said Edward Markle Jr. "If the general public practiced better cell phone etiquette maybe, but the human condition prevents those."
But supporter Jim Baker was more realistic.
"We already have screaming children.... it can't get worse than that. The most obnoxious sound in the universe," Baker wrote. "Cell phones are a drop in the bucket. Quit whining."
Another supporter offered a practical remedy for critics.
"Psssstt......ever hear of ear plugs, they work really well," David Brent wrote on the comments section underneath a CNN.com article about the proposed change.
Alhaji Koroma of Sierra Leone liked a side benefit of having cellular service.
"Text message is OK for me," Koroma wrote on CNN's Facebook page.
Supporters cited how other countries already allow cell phone calls on planes. In fact, a Federal Aviation Administration found that in 11 other countries, "civil aviation authorities reported no confirmed occurrences of cell phones affecting flight safety on aircraft with on-board cellular telephone base stations," the FAA's 2012 study said.
Proponents of the FCC proposal cited how they would like access to cellular service in case of emergencies -- such as when the passengers aboard the hijacked planes in the September 11, 2001, attacks used their cell phones to call family.
"'Bout time because my girlfriend was always worried when I was flying to go to work and she stayed worried until I got back home," wrote Will Davis of Lexington, Kentucky. "This is great especially when something bad happen(s) while in air."
Nicholas Tanner, a waiter who lives in Arlington, Texas, thought the proposal was "a great idea."
"Sometimes people do have important phone calls to make. For everyone that don't want to listen to the phone calls of others, you can watch a movie, listen to music, or simply buy ear plugs," Tanner wrote.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that advances in technology "likely no longer warrant -- on a technological basis -- the prohibition of in-flight phone use with the appropriate on-board equipment."
"We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself," the chairman said in a statement Friday. "Ultimately, if the FCC adopts the proposal in the coming months, it will be airlines' decisions, in consultation with their customers, as to whether to permit voice calls while airborne. The European Union has had a similar policy since 2008. That experience has demonstrated that it is possible to adjust the on-board communications equipment not to handle voice traffic, thus effectively shutting down any calls."
Several airlines said they were still considering their options under the FCC's proposal, which would cell phone call, texting and other mobile services while flying above 10,000 feet -- but not during takeoff and landing.
"Our customers have expressed concern about how the use of cellphones in-flight will impact their experience onboard. When the FCC makes a proposal available, we will study it along with feedback from customers and crews," United Airlines spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said.
Matt Miller, spokesman for American Airlines, said the carrier is "going to wait to review the FCC's full recommendation."
Delta was maintaining its ongoing position of not allowing phone calls during flights, which is based on customers' "overwhelming" feedback, a spokesman said Friday.
The current proposal will be discussed at the FCC's December 12 meeting and could then be opened for public comments. The commission would have to vote on a final rule before it could take effect.
If the FCC gives final approval, individual airlines could choose whether to provide mobile service to passengers.