In-flight calls could be permanently grounded by one government agency

Two steps forward, one step back

The US Department of Transportation is currently working to maintain air travel regulations that have already been deemed obsolete by other agencies.

The Federal Communications Commission determined last year that decades-old rules banning cell phone calls during flights are unnecessary, but the DOT has its own ideas.

It plans to publish a notice in December arguing for the ban of cellular calls during flights, allowing the public and the air travel industry to add their own arguments before making a final decision in February 2015, according to the The Wall Street Journal.

Naturally airlines would rather have final say on what's allowed on their flights and what's not, and the FCC has made its position clear, but the Department of Transportation's ruling would override both.

Tray tables up!

The proposed rules wouldn't affect texting or data use during flights, only actual phone calls.

The Federal Aviation Administration lifted restrictions on electronics use during flights in 2013, and the DOT won't reverse that entirely; it just wants to ban people jabbering on their phones during flight.

The rules banning cell phone use on planes have been in place for years and were originally intended to minimize cell phones' interference with ground networks, but the FCC said in late 2013 that's no longer a problem.

Nevertheless US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has apparently been working on making sure cell phone calls during flights stay banned since as early as February 2013, and he reportedly believes that airline personnel and most passengers are on the department's side.

Pick an aisle

It's worth noting this is currently more or less a moot point anyway, since most carriers don't offer cell service above certain altitudes. But one argument is that carriers should be allowed to offer this if they choose.

One carrier, the UK's AeroMobile, does offer in-flight cell service during international flights, but it said in July that most passengers don't use the service for calls and those who do keep their conversations short. In addition flight crew can turn the service off at any time during a flight.

But the DOT believes it has a responsibility to ban in-flight cell use on consumer protection grounds.

Wireless industry groups, air transportation organizations and the general public have several months left to get their arguments together, but come December, when the department publishes its notice, this could turn into one hell of a dogfight.