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Banning In-flight Voice Calls Is Not Enough

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Last December, the FCC announced plans toward lifting the ban on in-flight cellular phone use. Removing the ban, which has been in effect since 1991, would allow passengers on planes to make voice calls during flights. 1 This proposal has been met with opposition from federal agencies outside of the FCC, such as the Department of Transportation and members of Congress. The general public has also expressed opposition to the FCC lifting this ban on cellular phone use in flight, with FCC receiving over 1,200 comments on the proposal. The results of a Quinnipiac University national poll on the topic showed that Americans voted 2 to 1 against the use of cell phones on airplanes. 2 An Associated Press-GfK poll had similar results, finding “that 48 percent of Americans oppose allowing cellphones to be used for voice calls while flying” compared to 19 percent who support it. 3

The primary concern on lifting the ban on in-flight cellular use has been that passengers will be forced to listen to other passengers’ loud or personal phone conversations. Flight attendants, who are strongly against lifting the ban “worry that phone conversation will spark arguments between passengers and even acts of violence.” 4

On February 11, 2014, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved H.R. 3676, a bill that addresses the public’s main concerns regarding in-flight cell phone use. Chairman Shuster, who introduced the bill, believes that airplane cabins are too “noisy, crowded, and confined” for passengers to be able to walk away from loud or personal calls. The new House bill “prohibits the use of cell phones for voice communications only during the in-flight portion of any scheduled domestic commercial flight.” Under the bill, passengers will still be able to use mobile devices for texting, emailing, and other online activities, but may not make cellular voice calls. 5

But is this really enough? Are noisy and incessant conversations the only problem here? What about the health effects of the EMF generated by the high number of mobile devices being used in the tight space of these extremely crowded and confined airplanes?

Recent studies have found that the use of cellular and wireless devices can increase the risk of brain tumors, acoustic neuromas, and other cancer. People who use a cell phone for 10 years or more mainly on one side of the head have a 200% increased risk of a brain tumor and a 240% increased risk of acoustic neuroma. It has also been found that cell phone radiation can have other negative effects on the body including changes in brain function and behavior, negative effects on memory and learning, and diminished brain efficiency and judgement. 6

When airplane passengers turn on their cellular devices in flight, everyone will be exposed to wireless radiofrequencies and radiation regardless of whether the devices are being actively used. In a study of the effects of radiation from cell phones in standby mode, it was found that exposure to cell phone radiation is considerably greater while in a moving vehicle or other mode of transportation. This is due to the fact that these cell phones in motion are attempting to contact cell phone towers more frequently in order to send data regarding their changing location. 7

To make things worse, on an airplane, the metal shell of the aircraft creates a barrier which some classify as a Faraday effect. According to the Environmental Protection Minister of Israel Gilad Erdan, the metal casing of transportation vehicles such as buses and trains “makes it more difficult for the cell phone signal to broadcast and receive” and as such, the device “emits more radiation as it attempts to do so.” The findings were based on measurements from the ministry of radiation. Based on the data gathered, cell phones emit a stronger signal inside buses and trains where they are trapped, as it is difficult for the radiation to escape and dissipate due to the metal casing of the vehicles. According to the data, “when one fourth of the passengers in one train car or bus use their cell phones, all the passengers are exposed to a level of radiation higher than the allowable” levels. 8

So in effect, when large numbers of wireless devices are being used in close proximity in crowded or confined spaces such as a buses, trains, or planes, the EMF radiation from those individual devices can combine. And with that combined EMF radiation, the total radiation bombarding those present can surpass government-mandated maximum allowable levels.

Chairman Shuster stated in his argument for banning in-flight cellular voice calls that “in the close confines of an airplane cabin – where passengers will still be able to use their mobile devices for texting, emailing, working, and more – there is no chance to opt out.” We applaud his move to protect the airplane passenger’s experience in having a quiet and comfortable flight and avoiding the potential “negative effects on aviation safety and security.” 9 But perhaps our politicians need to look beyond just what the general public is demanding for their sanity and comfort on planes. Perhaps they need to look to the mounting data on the detrimental effects of EMF on our health and how their policies can affect the long-term health of passengers in planes and other public transportation.

What Can YOU Do?

Consider writing your political representatives and urge them to ban the use of mobile and other wireless devices in flight even for email or texting. Tell your representative that you, like the rest of the general public, want to not only avoid the nuisance of phone calls of neighboring passengers, but also want to have a quiet, safe, and secure experience when flying. Explain that even if the data on the health effects of EMF are limited, the general public should not be forced to endure exposure to EMF when flying without our consent.

Let your representative know that we believe that today, many more people would not give their consent on allowing mobile cellular devices in flight if the facts on EMF were better known.

Tell them that we also believe it’s not such a big inconvenience to ban the usage of cellular and other wireless devices on airplanes altogether. Wireless devices were banned on planes for years and people were fine. After all, as Shuster aptly put it, “for those few hours of flight spent with 150 strangers, we can all wait[…] It’s just common sense and common courtesy.” 10

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Sources and References

  2. Keep Cell Phones Off Planes, American Voters Say 2-1, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; More People Spending Less On Holiday GiftsRelease Detail Dec 11 2013, Polling Institute, Quinnipiac University
  3. AP-GfK Poll: Frequent fliers hate idea of in-flight calls; government regulators prepare to debate issueScott Mayerowitz, Dec 11 2013, Associated Press
  4. Regulators sending mixed signals over whether to retain ban on in-flight use of cellphonesJoan Lowy, Feb 21 2014, The Associated Press
  5. Committee Votes for Keeping Cell Phone Calls off Planes, Reauthorizing the U.S. Coast Guard, & Saving Taxpayer Dollars Through GSA LeasesJim Billimoria, Justin Harclerode, Press Release Feb 11 2014, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, U.S. House of Representatives
  6. Bioinitiative 2012 Report, pp. 9, 10,
  7. Impact of one’s own mobile phone in stand-by mode on personal radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure.Damiano Urbinello, Martin Roosli, J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2013 Sep-Oct;23(5):545-8. doi: 10.1038/jes.2012.97. Epub 2012 Oct 24.
  8. Sssshhhh! Ministries look at cell phone-free zones on public transitZafrir Rinat, Haaretz
  9. Cellphones on planes? Tap, don’t talkRep. Bill Shuster, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
  10. ibid

About Sara

My passion is helping others. My goal is to uncover the challenges and dangers of modern electronics and wireless technology for those who are ready to see them. In my own life I strive to work, play, eat and live more simply and naturally.

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