Nanny-stater of the week: DOT to ban cell phone use on planes

Part 15 of 15 in the series Nanny State of the Week

By Eric Boehm |

Just eight months ago cell phone use on airplanes was made legal.

THUMBS DOWN: The U.S. Department of Transportation isn’t going to give airlines a choice in allowing cell phone use or not.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is planning to make it illegal again.

DOT is preparing to substitute a ban lifted in December by the Federal Communication Commission, forcing travelers to turn off their mobile devices as soon as their airplanes leave the gate.

Though there is no formal decision yet, the department is preparing a “notice of proposed rulemaking,” which is bureaucratese for “getting closer to making this official and taking away your cell phones again,” the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

DOT nannies are “focused primarily on the disruptive effects of voice calls rather than texting or other data use, the Journal story said.

The FCC lifted the ban on cell phone use on planes after repeated scientific studies — and an episode of Mythbusters — demonstrated the devices posed no threat to airline safety, disruption of radio communications or electronics on an airplane.

By February, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the department was already seeking input from the airline industry and the public on reinstating the ban. Some airlines would prefer to prohibit the use of cell phones in-flight, according to the Journal.

Some, maybe, but not all, prompting you to consider flying with those airlines allowing in-flight calls. Others might choose airlines because cell calls are forbidden. Either way, you think, the free market can sort this out.

The Department of Transportation, like the rest of our federal government, thinks free market sorting is messy. Better to ban the calls on all airlines. Don’t question the logic and put your cell phone in airplane mode for the next four hours.

We believe it bears repeating: There is no safety hazard created by allowing cell phone use on planes in-flight. If there were we would welcome government guidelines. But since there isn’t, how about letting carriers and their customers work something out?

Travelers are allowed to use cell phones and other small electronic devices on airplanes in Europe and most of the rest of the world.

But in America, following the arbitrary rules set by federal nannies, flying the friendly skies means having your baggage rifled and getting your personal baggage groped. Cell phone use on planes is a luxury we can do without.

For their proposed ban, the Department of Transportation is this week’s winner. Its prize is a bunch of really important calls staff isn’t allowed to answer.

Boehm can be reached at and follow @EricBoehm87 and @WatchdogOrg on Twitter for more.