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Home > Blog > Hell Hath No Fury...Cell Phones on Planes
Out of Our Minds
Wednesday, November 23, 2005 1:07 AM
Hell Hath No Fury...Cell Phones on Planes
David Batstone on Culture

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced last year that would consider lifting restrictions in place since the early 1990s that prohibit cell phone use on airplanes. Making a call to your mother, it appears, will not cause the plane to spiral down into the middle of the ocean. All the same, it remains doubtful that the Federal Aviation Administration - which also would have to approve a rule change - will support an end to the ban any time soon.

Good thing. I caught a glimpse of the future of air rage: Travelers will be trying to toss each other out the door of the plane over cell phone use.

Here's how I tripped the wire. It was a hellish day of stopovers, so I had to take care of urgent business on my cell phone between flights. Once I took my seat on a new flight connection, I made use of every minute before the plane was ready to go. I must have missed the announcement to turn off all cell phones, because a flight attendant came over to tell me personally that I had to turn my phone off. She was rather pleasant, but the passengers seated around me acted as if she had just staved off a raid of the barbarians. The guy one aisle over began clapping madly, hands extended toward me as if to say, 'In your face, bud.' A few passengers seated behind me joined in his revelry. Yes indeed, justice had been served on the cellular idiot in 10C.

I nodded my apologies at the offended, which served to douse the inflamed, and the incident ended there. I could not help but note the irony, however, of what ensued. For the duration of the three-hour flight, I had to endure the loud chatter of the passengers seated behind me - the very ones who were enraged by my cell phone use. As hard as I tried to get some sleep, I could not block out their projections on the housing bubble or reviews of movies that they had all seen. \n\nSocial conventions are rarely rational, of course. Probably most of us, once seated in a peaceful cafe, would get annoyed at the loud voice of a cell phone caller at the next table. But put two people together at that table, holding a conversation at the same volume, and we would not think twice about it.\n\nMost flight professionals are pleading with the regulatory agencies to delay approving cell phone use. Long lines and heightened security checks already have the nerves of harried passengers frazzled. Patricia Friend, international president for the Association of Flight Attendants, shared a letter that a 10-year flight attendant wrote to the FCC: 'I have seen fist fights because one passenger puts his seat back and the passenger behind him wants to read his newspaper. Can you imagine what would happen when people are gabbing away on cell phones?'\n\nPerhaps airlines could learn from their counterparts on land. Amtrak rail service in the northeast section of the United States, including its flagship route between Boston and Washington, offers one car on most trains where wireless phones are banned and conversation must be kept to a whisper at most. Airlines might similarly designate certain rows or sections of the cabin. But the sound of 100 people talking travels, and in this case it won't have far to go. Add to that the problem of 'cell yell' - the tendency of people to speak too loudly into their cell phones.\n\nPersonally, I'd like to see continued restrictions on cell phone use. I certainly don't want to pass several hours listening to Manager Pete run a meeting with his staff mapping out the branding strategy for their new product line.\n\nWireless connectivity in the air for laptops, on the other hand, would be a real boon for regular business travelers. Give me email, and I wouldn't need to use my cell phone. Then I'd only have to pray that the guy seated next to me isn't packing a Skype phone.

1 comment

Jennifer Warwick - 11/27/2005 1:22:37 PM
I'd happily pay extra out of my own pocket for a cell-free flight, if it comes to that.

I fly cross-country for business several times a month, and between the babies who are having a hard time traveling, their embarrassed, tired and frustrated moms (and occasionally dads), the DVD geniuses who turn their headphones to 11, the yapping mini-dogs in Gucci purses, and my personal favorite, The Seat-Kickers, it's already hard enough. Nothing like a size 11 pushing with gusto in the small of your back, at unpredictable times, to keep a 5-hour flight interesting. And given the miniature rows these days, I'm probably a Seat-Kicker myself, and I'm only 5 feet tall.

Add cell phones to the mix and I may just snap. Luckily, I'm not the violent type: it's more likely that I would simply sob inconsolably from coast to coast. Less dangerous, but much more irritating. I go through a lot of Kleenex.


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