Please, No Cell Phones on Airplanes

Posted on January 8, 2013

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Once again, the FAA is being challenged to allow the use of electronic devices – including cell phones – on airplanes, even during takeoffs and landings.  Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is just the latest to question the prohibition against electronics, saying that the devices are increasingly “interwoven” into our lives and years of research have never proven that they are a hazard to flight operations.

So long as we meet safety regulations (including listening to the safety briefings), I certainly wouldn’t mind people being allowed to use their e-readers, music players, laptops or tablets more extensively.  Lord knows, if it would keep the little ones from melting down like the toddler on Alaska Airlines recently, things could be a lot more pleasant all around.

But I draw the line at cell phones.  Sure, text all you like, but airline executives, please, please, never allow cell phone conversations in the cabins in flight.  Sure, a quick coordination call to say “We’re taking off 45 minutes late,” or “We just got to the gate, see you in baggage claim,” is one thing.  But who wants to be trapped next to some yammering monkey for a two, three, or six-hour flight?  People just can’t put the things down.  Last week, I saw a woman at a medical appointment go in to see the nurse with her phone stuck to her ear.  She had her vitals read, then came out with the phone still stuck to her ear.  If you think we have Air Rage problems now, just wait until half the plane is carrying on like a pack of howler monkeys and the other half would like to watch a movie, sleep, or read.

I recently took a four-hour train trip.  Directly in front of me sat a woman who apparently uses the train as her office, and I think I ended up knowing just as much about her business as her co-worker on the other end of the line.  That’s the thing about cell yammerers:  they are in the phone-generated Bubble of Oblivion, completely forgetting that there are people who can hear them even though it is none of their business, and their end of the conversation, for some reason, is usually inordinately loud (the Bubble of Oblivion causes them to forget a lot of other things too, which is why driving while yammering is dangerous… but I digress).  When I had had quite enough of Ms. Business Lady, I made some intrusive remark not quite under my breath (yes, sorry, a little passive aggressive, I know).  She turned and looked at me.  I smiled and waved.  She ducked a little lower in her seat, and lowered her voice.  Within five minutes, she was back at the maxi-decibel level for the benefit of her fellow passengers’ interest in her business.  See, I think my buttinsky remark reminded her that hey, you’re not in a phone booth, we can all hear you.  For just a moment, the Bubble of Oblivion had been popped; but then it insidiously closed around her again.  I moved to the Quiet Car, where directly beneath the very prominent “No cell phone” sign, there was some idiot… you guessed it… yammering on his phone.

Well, now, that was extremely annoying, but at least on a train, you do have freedom to move to other cars, other seats.  And there may be rulebreakers, but at least the quiet car exists.  On a plane, not so much!  We are tinned like sardines, lashed to our seats for the mildest turbulence, and all share one big cabin.  Unlike the train, there are few opportunities to move to another seat, and we are not allowed to even think about moving to the next cabin just beyond the flimsy but inviolable curtains.

I am sick to death of loud, inane, one-sided conversations everywhere:  on the metro, on the train, in checkout lines, in waiting rooms, in public toilet stalls.  But none of those venues trap you within six inches of your new best friend the way air travel does, and for that reason alone, phone conversations need to stay permanently off-limits in the air.  And if not – well, I will gladly pay extra to fly the airline that does not allow cell phone conversations in the air.

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