U.S. airlines in no rush over cellphones

file/ap Southwest Airlines says its passengers are more focused on Wi-Fi than in-flight cellphone use. AirBus began testing Wi-Fi on its A320 aircraft (above) five years ago.

LOS ANGELES — In the skies over Europe, Asia and the Middle East, airline passengers can chat and text on cellphones without getting an angry look from a flight attendant.

Thai Airways, with regular flights from Los Angeles to Bangkok, recently announced plans to offer onboard cellphone service, joining about 20 other foreign-based carriers that already offer it.

But U.S. carriers are not rushing to jump on the bandwagon, even though aviation experts say new satellite-based technology makes airborne cellphone calls safe.

“It’s not a priority of ours right now,” said Mary Frances Fagan, a spokeswoman for American Airlines.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission prohibit cellphone calls on planes over U.S. airspace, but federal officials say they would listen to requests by airlines to lift the restrictions.

But don’t expect airline officials in the U.S. to press for such changes. They cite the extra cost and hassle to test, install and operate cellphone technology as one reason to keep cellphones off domestic flights.

And airlines point out that passengers are not clamoring for the service, according to several surveys that say most air travelers expect that in-flight cellular service will lead to loud phone conversations and onboard fury.

Even flight attendants have voiced opposition, saying cellphone calls would only make their jobs more difficult.

But on foreign airlines, reports of cellphone calls causing disputes or disturbances have been rare, primarily because calls are costly, starting at about $1.20 per minute, and noisy aircraft cabins deter long conversations, according to foreign carriers and their passengers.

On a Virgin Atlantic flight this summer from London to Miami, record producer Corey Johnson’s short cellphone call was met with curiosity, not anger, from fellow passengers.

Brett King, an author and speaker on the banking industry who has flown on Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways, said calls cause no friction because passengers are instructed to keep their phones on silent mode to stifle the ring and calls are not allowed in a “quiet zone” of the plane where passengers might be sleeping.

Passengers on Emirates Airline flights have used their cellphones more than 10 million times to send and receive text messages and emails and an additional 625,000 times for voice conversations since the airline began offering the service in 2008, according to the airline. But the airline says it has received only two complaints about loud calls.

But in the U.S., passengers and airline officials predict feuds and clashes among fliers if cellphone service is activated on planes.

Without demand from passengers, U.S. airline representatives say they won’t press federal officials to allow cellphone calls on domestic flights.

“Right now our focus is on what customers say they want, and that is in-flight Wi-Fi,” said Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, the nation’s most popular domestic carrier.