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Shhh! Air Travelers Say Keep Phone Use to Data

If and when U.S. airlines permit mobile device activity, most users won't want to hear others' phone conversations unless there's a special section in the plane for conversations. Instead, travelers would prefer to see mobile data use alone cleared for takeoff.

That's the feedback from consumers in a new survey commissioned by Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) and conducted by Harris Interactive on U.S. in-flight mobile phone usage.

Of those polled, 74 percent believe device usage should be restricted to silent features, while nearly that amount -- 69 percent -- want a designated area for talking on a phone.

Additionally, 60 percent of respondents want to use their device's silent features while flying -- text messaging topping out at 38 percent, e-mail at 28 percent and game access at 29 percent.

"This shows that users want to use the phone on a flight but view it more as a computer in the pocket," Nicole Leverich, a Yahoo spokesperson, told InternetNews.com.

While U.S. aviation and federal telecom officials have yet to change today's ban on mobile phone use during flights, 20 European Union countries have given their airlines the green light to develop and provide mobile phone service.

The study also comes at a time when mobile device use is soaring in the U.S., as is users' increased use of texting, Web browsing and instant messaging on smartphones and mobile phones.

Juniper Research predicts that 4.2 billion worldwide people will own mobile devices by 2013. Research firm eMarketer forecasts that mobile social networking will grow from 82 million users in 2007 to over 800 million worldwide by 2012.

If talking on mobile phones while in-flight does receive approval, it seems travelers from the West Coast may be most upset by the news. According to the study, users in the region ranked the highest among those wanting flights limited to non-voice use, with 83 percent wanting it restricted to data applications.

Users in the South may prove somewhat more accommodating, however, with 69 percent of respondents from the region calling for a ban on voice use.

The survey also found that specific mobile device features users hope to use while in-flight are split along age lines.

In the 35- to 44-year-old group, the largest group -- 43 percent -- cited e-mail as the top mobile device feature. In the 18- to 34-year-old group, however, 62 percent want text and 29 percent want IM features.

"Personally, the idea of sitting next to someone for an hour or 12 hours who's talking on the phone isn't appealing to me and apparently not for many people," Leverich said. "What is compelling is being able to communicate in some form during flights and check e-mails."