NEW YORK — Airline passengers have already been stripped of their legroom, hot meals and personal space. Now, they might also lose their silence.
The Federal Communications Commission is considering lifting its longtime prohibition on making cellphone calls on airplanes, saying it is time "to review our outdated and restrictive rules."
But for many passengers, that would mean the elimination of one of the last sanctuaries from our hyperconnected world. Everybody wants the ability to stay connected while traveling, but nobody wants to be trapped next to some guy yapping away during the entire trip from New York to Las Vegas.
"The only way I'd be in favor of this is if the FCC mandated that all those who want to use their cellphones must sit next to families with screaming children," said frequent flier Joe Winogradoff.
One flight attendants union has already come out against any change, saying that a plane full of chattering passengers could lead to arguments and undermine safety.
Passenger Kai Xu had another concern: What's going to happen to the already limited bathrooms on the plane?
"Are they going to become the telephone booths for those who want to talk on the phone in private?" he said.
A day after setting off an uproar among travelers opposed to the idea of in-flight phone calls, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler backtracked, saying he personally isn't in favor of calls on planes. But, he said, the role of the FCC is to advise if there is a safety issue with using phones on planes. Amending the agency's rules "will be only a technical advisory." The decision to allow calls will ultimately rest with the airlines, Wheeler emphasized.
Within hours of the FCC's announcement, the cellphone industry voiced its support. Airlines already charge for Internet access. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine them charging for phone use.
Allowing calls isn't so much a safety issue as one about what is socially acceptable.
"There are simply far too many people who consider themselves too important to stop talking as a courtesy to other passengers, especially when, given airplane background noise, they'll probably have to talk louder than usual," said Benjamin Stolt, who flies nearly 200,000 miles a year.
American and United Airlines said they would wait for an FCC decision and then study the issue. Delta Air Lines was much more firm, saying passenger feedback for years has shown "overwhelming" support for a ban.
JetBlue and Southwest also noted a desire for silence, but added that tastes and desires change.