Nightmare at 20,000 feet: You may be seated next to a Chatty Cathy on the phone

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Bus drivers often remind passengers to keep their cellphone conversations as quick and quiet as possible, and now airline pilots might need to do the same. That’s right — on top of everything else that’s annoying about traveling with a bunch of strangers in a flying capsule, you may also have to endure hours of unintentional eavesdropping, as passengers could soon be allowed to make in-flight Wi-Fi calls. If a new proposal from federal regulators passes, you’ll be able to chat to your friends around the world from thousands of feet in the air.

But don’t worry — flight attendants and others familiar with the hassles of air travel have already pointed out that such a practice could be incredibly disruptive, which is why the Department of Transportation said on Thursday that it would have airlines inform passengers beforehand whether or not they allowed for in-flight calls. This way, those who want to chat the hours away can do so, and those who want no part of it can pick an alternate airline.

“[This] proposal will ensure that air travelers are not unwillingly exposed to voice calls, as many of them are troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cell phones in flight,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time the department has proposed allowing calls whilst in the air. Back in 2014, the same suggestion was put to the public, but received “overwhelmingly negative” responses. It is unclear why the department thinks that two years would have made a big difference. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, certainly doesn’t think anything has changed, calling anything other than a ban on calls “reckless.”

“It threatens aviation security and increases the likelihood of conflict in the skies. It threatens safety for crews and passengers,” Nelson said.

But airlines themselves are split on whether or not to allow the practice.

“We have long held that this was not a matter for DOT to regulate, and we believe airlines should be able to determine what services can be safely offered in flight and make those decisions based on what is in the best interests of their passengers and crewmembers,” a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, Kathy Grannis Allen, told the Associated Press.

On the other hand, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines aren’t interested in allowing calls. “Our customers have expressed concerns regarding the potentially disruptive nature of in-flight voice calls,” said Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish.

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