Friday, June 22, 2018
Transportation

Take a message: No cellphone calls on planes

On a full flight to New York, I once found myself seated amidst a very angry family that filled a row of seats across both sides of the aisle.

The parents on opposite sides of me were engaged in a vicious and highly personal argument, snarling across my airspace at each other and occasionally at the kids.

I tried to take refuge in headphones for the in-flight movie — Snakes on a Plane would have been welcome at that point — but the young son next to me kept impishly unplugging them from my armrest. His mother saw and smacked him good, setting off howls and arguments anew, summoning a reluctant flight attendant who had been trying to ignore the whole scene. It didn't get much better from there, one of those classic bad flights in which you are hopelessly trapped in the discourtesy of others.

A proposal that could let airplane passengers talk on cellphones would be worse.

Imagine a plane full of loud yakkers — we tend to talk on cellphones like we have to be heard all the way to wherever the person on the other end is — engaging in disjointed half-conversations about work, family or absolutely nothing. Imagine you, trapped in your seat, forced to listen. In stereo. Or worse.

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed letting airlines allow passengers to use cellphones in flight. Airlines could offer just data and texting services or go sky's-the-limit, letting passengers gab on their phones from Tampa to Tulsa, oblivious of common courtesy and actual people around them.

And is someone actively seeking ways to make air travel more miserable?

(A caveat and some good news in this: The Department of Transportation has said it would consider banning voice calls.)

This week, the FCC officially began accepting public comment, though they had plenty of feedback already. Here is a favorite for getting right to the point: Planes have gotten smaller and people have gotten ruder. Do you really want to have the pilot referee a mutiny at 30,000 feet?

Another: NO NO NO!!!!!

Yes, there have been phones on planes past. But we have since morphed into our current all-about-me culture, one in which we cannot select a bag of potato chips at Publix without simultaneously carrying on a phone conversation for the rest of the world to hear.

On a plane, we're in it together. We're packed in as tight as an airline can manage, nickel-and-dimed on everything from luggage to legroom to stale pretzels, stuck in close proximity with strangers from takeoff to touchdown.

So basic politeness is a must. Tolerating your neighbor, empathizing with a screaming baby who cannot help himself, extending yourself to hand your seatmate his third cocktail or pass along his trash — it all helps make flight more civilized and tolerable.

But an oblivious bloviator on an iPhone? No thanks.

Texting, by the way, is kind of a nice option, making it less likely a bored neighbor will wow you with details of his trip to Six Flags or photos of his Yorkie in a darling Christmas outfit. A quiet cabin full of busy texters actually sounds like bliss. But cellphone calls on a plane? Even snakes sound better.

Care to comment? Go to fcc.gov/comments. At "Proceeding" drop down to "13-301 Expanding Access to Mobile Wireless Services Onboard."

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