WASHINGTON — The campaign against disruptive cell-phone conversations is spreading to the skies.
Armed with their own horror stories of rude cell-phone users, three lawmakers on Tuesday introduced "The HANG UP" Act — Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace — which would ban in-flight cell-phone use aboard U.S. airliners.
Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Jerry Costello, D-Ill., and John Duncan, R-Tenn., said the bill is designed to keep American airlines from emulating carriers in the European Union, which recently gave the go-ahead to cell-phone use aboard flights within its 27 member nations.
Just as their news conference started, six staff members, following orders from DeFazio, simultaneously began dialing cell phones and chattering to display the kind of nerve-wracking babble that passengers might expect to endure 30,000 feet in the sky.
"I can't imagine people going through what I went through just a few weeks ago," said Costello as he recalled the passenger seated behind him on a flight from St. Louis to Washington, D.C.
"His cell phone went off before we started to depart," Costello said. "It became obvious to everyone around that it was either his wife or girlfriend, and she gave him the bad news that they were breaking up."
The young man spent the next 10 minutes "begging and pleading" with the caller until a flight attendant demanded that he hang up.
Costello, the chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said he plans to hold immediate hearings in the hopes of passing the bill as quickly as possible.
The legislation would apply only to audible conversations and wouldn't restrict wireless e-mails, text-messaging or the use of laptop computers.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission currently prohibit in-flight cell-phone use aboard U.S. airliners.
Charging fees for in-flight cell phone use could provide a new source of revenue for cash-strapped airlines burdened by rising fuel costs and other operating pressures.
"We think this is something that shouldn't happen,"' said DeFazio. "And we want to intervene before it does and before the airlines become addicted to the money."
Passengers can operate their cell phones while the plane is on the ground but not in the air. The in-flight bans were put into place because of potential disruptions with the planes' instruments.
EU officials and airlines in the member nations plan to use onboard stations — the equivalent of an airborne mobile tower — to send signals directly to a satellite, avoiding a potential disruption with the planes' communications.
The Air Transport Association, the trade group representing major airlines, said in a statement that in-flight communications "should be made by the individual airlines based on passenger needs and preferences."
Airline attendants, who would be charged with enforcing cell-phone use, are strongly against lifting the ban, as are most passengers, according to a survey by the International Airline Passengers Association.