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Senator Makes Progress in Crusade Against In-Flight Phone Calls

Alexander touts language in transportation spending bill

Sen. Lamar Alexander continues to work to block phone calls on commercial flights. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Lamar Alexander continues to work to block phone calls on commercial flights. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Lamar Alexander is making progress in his campaign against cell phone calls on commercial airline flights.

The Tennessee Republican has been touting the inclusion of language in the Senate version of legislation to fund the Department of Transportation that would direct Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao to finalize a ban on voice calls during flights, as regulations and technology change regarding cell phone use.

Alexander has been complaining about the issue for at least five years, often teaming with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a fellow senior member of the Appropriations Committee.

“I would suggest that any senator who opposes banning cell phone conversations on flights be sentenced to sit next to a loud businessman talking to his girlfriend on a six-hour flight between New York and California,” Alexander said in a statement following last Thursday’s full committee markup. “Keeping phone conversations off commercial flights may not be enshrined in the Constitution, but surely it is enshrined in common sense.”

In a release, Alexander’s office noted that Federcal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai stopped work on a proposed rule to allow in-flight phone calls last year, but the Tennessee senator warned such an effort could return without legislative action.

The specific language in the Transportation-HUD spending bill lines up with a bill Alexander introduced about a year ago with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey, Alexander’s office said.

Alexander offered perhaps his most colorful comments about airline phone calls in 2014.

“Stop and think about what we hear in airport lobbies — babbling about last night’s love life, next week’s schedule, arguments with spouses — and then imagine hearing the same thing while you’re trapped in 17-inch-wide seats thousands of feet above the ground,” he said at the time.

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