Last updated: December 06. 2013 8:10AM - 769 Views

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The good news is that the agencies that regulate portable electronic devices on airplanes are loosening their rules. The bad news may be that you sit next to a loud talker on your next flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration has decided that we can use some of our electronic devices from gate-to-gate, that is, eliminating the requirement that we hit the off button until the plane reaches 10,000 feet.

Next up is the decision to be made by the Federal Communications Commission on whether we can use our cellphones to make phone calls.

The FCC will meet on Dec. 12, and a decision is expected then. Most likely, the commission will say yes, according to media reports. That’s how it should be. Once the FAA and the FCC determine that there is nothing inherently dangerous to either air passengers or to the nation’s tower-based cellphone system, then the government should get out of the way — mostly.

The airlines will now decide if they will allow passengers to use these devices. There’s almost no opposition to using electronic tablets or laptops on board, or even to texting when above 10,000 feet. But there is opposition to cellphone calls.

Flight attendants and pilots worry that planes will be even noisier than they are today and that passengers will annoy each other to the point that arguments, or worse, break out in the cabin. And, a Delta Airlines survey in 2012 found that two-thirds of passengers aren’t likely to approve, either. Too many of them have been stuck in closed spaces with rude cellphone users who talk too loud or use inappropriate language.

The airlines can look to commuter railroads that set aside separate cars for those who want quiet. And this may be where the FAA steps in, requiring that cellphone calls be made from a limited portion of the cabin and that no extra fee be charged for quiet seats.

With safety assured, it is time for the agencies to step aside so airlines can handle passenger comfort.

— Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal

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