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Cell Phones on the Plane: Possible Lift in Ban on In-Flight Phone Calls, But Some are Still Against It

Travelers Today       By    Amanda Woods

Updated: Feb 19, 2013 10:31 AM EST

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The long-held regulations against using cell phones in U.S. airspace may soon be lifted, but many passengers and experts are still against it, citing both health risks and the potential annoyance.

Some European and Middle Eastern airlines already allow personal cell phone use while flying outside of U.S. airspace, KTVU reported.

Onboard equipment solves navigation interference problems -- but the U.S. Federal Navigation Commission requires passengers to turn off their phones for take-off and landing, and keep them on airplane mode while at altitude.

Some regulators say they are ready to offer regular, in-flight cell phone use on domestic airline flights, a possibility that has polarized many on all sides of the flight experience.

"I think it's a bad idea personally because we'll be listening to everyone's gossip and their whole life story," Karen Sager of Napa, Calif. told KTVU.

"I think the pros would be that if there's an emergency you can get hold of somebody," Sonoma, Calif. resident Lisa Carlsson added.

But flight attendants worry that if passengers are on the phone, they won't be paying attention to cabin instructions.

There are health risks, too.

"Looking at brain tumor risk and other kinds of cancer risk, I would say it's a bad idea," Joel Moskowitz, director of the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Family and Community Health, told KTVU.

Moskowitz said cellphones radiate low power microwaves and that inside a metal container, such as a jet fuselage, microwaves reflect and amplify.

He said over-limit exposures are present in container-like buses and trains -- potentially leading to health effects.

"You're going to have very high exposures in certain parts of that container and it's hard to predict even where those hot spots, so to speak, occur" Moskowitz said.

But author and U.C. Berkeley physicist Richard Muller said the danger is minimal.

"I think it's a great idea," he said. "I think it's time we did it. The only downside is now I can't escape my cellphone when I'm flying in an airplane."

Some fliers said they are eager for the chance to use their phones on the plane.

"I'd have access to a lot more emails than paying the outrageous fees for Wi-Fi on the plane," Uwem Umontuen of Nashville told KTVU.

"I think as long as it was kept to emails and text messaging that would be OK," said Taneha Lay, another Nashville resident.

New surveys, though, indicate that most passengers prefer solitude.

"It's a nice quiet environment to do work, I don't want to hear people talking on their phone," said Amy Heiserman of Denver.

As of now, no airline has requested that the FAA allow in-flight calls, but it may happen in the future.

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