By Jeff John Roberts
April 10, 2017

Airline passengers are already subject to a host of indignities from shrinking leg room to fewer food choices to being dragged off of overbooked flights.

But embattled air travelers may have just dodged a further aggravation: On Monday, the Federal Communication Commission’s chairman said the agency will no longer consider relaxing the rules on in-cabin calls.

“I do not believe that moving forward with this plan is in the public interest. Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, adding that he viewed the FCC’s 2013 plan to relax rules as being “ill-conceived.”

The decision will likely prove popular. Many passengers dread the idea of a seat mate yakking away on a conference call during a five-hour flight, and remain more than willing to forgo the convenience of making in-air calls.

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But this may not be the end of the matter. In December, another agency—the Department of Transportation—said the FCC does not have jurisdiction over Wi-Fi-enabled calls, and suggested it is exploring the idea of allowing in-flight calls too.

As a result, airlines may still have an opening to introduce voice calls, which could represent a new way to market and make money from in-flight Wi-Fi. In December, though, carriers including Delta and Jet Blue said they would ban voice calls no matter what the agencies do, while United said is was evaluating the option.

The Transportation Department did not immediately respond to a question for comment about its latest views on the issue.

As such, Monday’s FCC announcement may serve mostly as a way for Chairman Pai to score some political points as he girds for a much bigger fight—the plan to roll back the agency’s net neutrality rules.

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