August 16, 1996 in Nation/World

Jet Phone Memo Hits Turbulence

Associated Press

If you were on a plane and it suddenly was in trouble, would you want to phone a relative - or even alert the news media?

Two weeks after the crash of TWA Flight 800, USAir pilots were advised to disable their in-flight telephones during potential disasters, The New York Times reported Thursday. The memo seemed to say the reason was for the airline’s image, but USAir says it is for safety’s sake.

“There may be occasions where an in-flight anomaly could occur where it is desirable to disable the phone system,” the memorandum said. “USAir prefers to furnish press releases for in-flight anomalies instead of having the information reported live via telephone from the aircraft!”

Richard Weintraub, a spokesman for USAir, said senior management had been unaware of the memo’s wording.

“The language has been rescinded,” he said, adding that the memo was intended “to prevent a situation where a phone call from a passenger on an aircraft could have interfered with the safety or security of the aircraft.”

GTE Airfone spokeswoman Laura Littel said she can see a need to disconnect the phones in certain disasters. USAir retained Airfone to install the popular in-flight telephones earlier this month.

“The only thing I could think of would be a hijacking,” she said. “Someone could use this phone to say, ‘I want this plane to go to XYZ or I’m going to do something.’ That is a potential.”

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