Survey: 54% Of Americans Want Airlines To Ban In-Flight Calls

A slim majority of Americans want airlines to ban passengers from making phone calls during flight, according to a *CrunchGov Poll. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Communications Commission may permit passengers to test the limits of their unlimited talk plan during commercial flights.

According to The Journal, the FCC and the Federal Aviation Administration squashed previous plans to turn planes into giant steel tubes of auditory torture because of public backlash. In 2004, the FCC received over 8,000 comments on a similar proposal. A later survey from the FAA showed a slim majority (51%) had negative reactions to the rule change.

Survey Results

We asked a simple question: should airlines ban in-flight calls? A slim majority supported the ban.


Our CrunchGov poll used Google Surveys and reached 1,578 American adults, with a margin of error -/+2.5%. Specifically, we asked “Airlines are considering allowing passengers to make phone calls during flights. Some people think in-flight calls should not be permitted. What do you think?”.

53.9% of respondents selected “Airlines should NOT allow in-flight calls”.


I love surveys, but they are often terribly conducted. As I’ve written about, very tiny changes in wording can dramatically alter the results of a survey. There’s a few methodological issues with the FAA survey that won’t help airlines make up their own rules about in-flight calls.

First, Americans tend to have a natural aversion to the government forbidding anything. Survey methodologists call this a “double-barrel” question. For instance, if I ask “Should the government increase funding to education?” and a respondent answers “no,” I don’t know if the respondent doesn’t like the government or education funding or both.

In reality, the rule may fall to private airlines, which is what our question focused on (rather than asking about the law).

Second, rule changes are extremely sensitive to the “forbid/allow asymmetry” where participants give dramatically different answers depending on wording that implies the forbidding or allowing of a behavior, even if the effect is the same.

As I’ve written before “In 1989, a poll found that far more respondents seemed to support interracial marriage when they were asked whether the government should “allow” the marriage (32%) vs. “forbid” such marriage (19%), even though, legally speaking, it’s the exact same.”

So, to test out whether in-flight call preferences are stable, we also asked whether airlines should “continue to forbid in-flight calls”. No significant change was detected. Google Surveys has word limits, so I expect that if we could add in the full details of the law (it applies to cell phones on commercial flights above 10,000 feet), the results would be the same.

All 3 surveys we conducted had nearly identical results, and are very close the FAA results, so it’s a good sign that consumers know what they want.

I have no idea if a slim majority is enough to persuade airlines to keep the ban. If not, I’m investing my nest egg in the ear plug industry.

*Note: for methodological questions on CrunchGov surveys, this is why we use Google Surveys and our in-flight survey methods can be found  here, here, and here.