In-flight cellphone calls: About as good an idea as in-flight karaoke

Rob Walker, Yahoo News
Yahoo News

You know the burning, burning rage you feel when you get stuck sitting on a train or bus next to someone blabbing away on a cellphone?

Well, you could soon experience that rage at 30,000 feet!

The FCC is thinking of allowing fliers to yap on cellphones at high altitudes, the WSJ reported on Thursday. The details of whether to allow such behavior would be up to airlines – who are going to end up annoying a lot of people no matter what they decide. Let’s hope, for the love of the airplane lavatory, that Delta and Southwest and the others unite in opposition.

That, I think, would be a monopoly we could all get behind.

As you can tell, I’m firmly in the camp of the 51% of those participating in a survey from the FAA who expressed “negative views” of allowing in-flight calls. Arguably the only saving grace of air travel is that the entire airplane is the “quiet car.” Flying has by and large devolved into an experience roughly as glamorous as a midnight bus; I see very few Don Drapers on planes these days, but quite a number of grown men in shorts, who have decided to slop down a couple of Sbarro slices in-flight. But at least this is still a place to be free of all the many varieties of cell-blather irritation, from the loudly gossiping teen to the pompous middle-manager dude gassing on about his supply-chain insights.

Giving these people free rein sounds about as appealing as encouraging in-flight karaoke.

It surprised me, in fact, to learn that 47% of respondents to that poll had positive reactions to the cells-in-the-air possibility. But it shouldn’t have. We’ve all witnessed cellphone addicts who see no need to stop discussing personal matters while on the street, in a coffee shop, in line at the bank, during a movie, or from the next stall over in a public bathroom. I bet these people are so excited about adding airplanes to the list they’re calling someone about it right now, even as they step into the crosswalk.

The main thing the anti-cell faction has going for us, I suspect, is that the airlines (for once!) are on our side. The Association of Flight Attendants has opposed the change, and no wonder. Airlines have squeezed passengers with baggage fees and the like; passengers, already grumpy, are increasingly combative about using their precious gizmos. Flight attendants are caught in the middle, and must dread the possibility of refereeing the infinite squabbles over loudmouth cell-talkers that in-flight calls would make inevitable.

My worst fear here, actually, is that the airlines will figure out a way to make me pay extra to be free of cell chatter. Quiet planes at premium ticket prices? A cone of silence fee? A $15 surcharge to punch the guy next to me screaming about stock options?

On the other hand, my fondest hope is that airlines will stop short of allowing voice calls, but mollify the gadgeteers with permission to text as they wish. The very best trend I’ve noted in air travel in recent years has been the arrival of tablet devices to silence toddlers and other screaming children. They really work! And I have no problem with applying the same theory to grown-up texters: Quiet their voices anyway we can, I say. Because if I have to listen to shorts-wearing Sbarro guy call his bros to talk about last weekend, I’m going to be the one crying like a baby.

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