Nov 26 2013

Cell phones on planes

It looks like the FCC may soon relax the prohibition on using cell phones on planes.

The Federal Communications Commission said it will soon propose allowing passengers to use their cellphones on airplanes, setting up a debate that will pit the technically possible against the socially tolerable.

That would remove a regulatory hurdle to in-flight calls, but it would be up to the airlines themselves whether to allow them. Airlines have said they would approach the matter cautiously because of strong objections from their customers.

I already hated traveling by plane but its one saving grace was that it was an oasis of peace and quiet in a public place, uninterrupted by TVs and people talking loudly and interminably on cell phones.

If I am stuck on a cramped seat next to such an inconsiderate person, I will likely not say anything because it is legal. I will try and shut out the noise as best as I can. But I see trouble as some people request silence and are rebuffed or they up the ante and start talking even more loudly on their own phones, to give the other person a taste of their own medicine. Can fisticuffs be far behind? Is it any wonder that flight attendants are worried that they will have to deal with unruly people?

It will be interesting to see which airlines continue to have the ban. Some such as Southwest, Delta, and Virgin have said they are unlikely to allow cell phone use since the feedback they have got is overwhelmingly negative. United has said they are studying the proposal. It would not surprise me if they allowed it since United does not seem to care much about customer satisfaction.

Perhaps some airlines will bring back something similar to the old days when planes were divided into smoking and non-smoking sections, just like some restaurants that already have cell phone free sections. Airlines will likely resist this because it makes seat assignments and boarding more complicated.


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  1. 1
    A. Noyd

    What about disallowing voice and video calls but permitting texting and web browsing? (Although, some people like to leave on the clicky or beepy noise for the phone’s keyboard, so when they’re texting you still have irritating bullshit to listen to.)

  2. 2
    Mano Singham

    That would work for me.

  3. 3

    Love how you call it fisticuffs :]

    You forgot Spirit on there. I imagine they’ll have a policy allowing you to talk on your cellphone if you pay the cell fee in order to bring your phone with you in your pocket, then pay a usage rate of a dollar per minute.

  4. 4

    I’d actually prefer the ban continue.


    What annoys me is that I can’t use an MP3 player during takeoff and landing. Have you ever tried using the “in-flight radio”? The music gets played at 50 decibels, barely audible, then the announcements come over at 100, blaring in your ear.

  5. 5
    Crimson Clupeidae

    They are changing those rules as well, to allow e-readers and most non-transmitting devices.

    There needs to be some caution here, on the part of the airlines. Many of them still have older avionics mostly without the solid state internals. They are still susceptible to some interference, depending on the frequency of the phone/electronics. So it may seem arbitrary to some passengers (and they will bitch appropriately), but there are some (mostly obviated by current technology) valid reasons to continue the ban on some aircraft.

  6. 6
    Nathaniel Frein

    True, but would it be any worse than someone with their gameboy on?

  7. 7
    A. Noyd

    No, but in my experience it’s usually kids who have their gameboys on with the sound up, and adults have a certain social license to tell kids to turn that shit down. It’s harder to tell some middle aged person to adjust the settings of their cell phone because they’re being obnoxious.

  8. 8

    I am not as worried as others on this issue. To play devil’s advocate, I submit that it is uncommon that I see someone talking obnoxiously on their phone on a bus or other public transportation. To be sure, it happens, but it is far more common to see people texting or other quiet activities. Those who talk on their phones are usually (though not always) considerate to others around them.

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