Will Cell Phone Usage In-Flight Be the Downfall Of Commercial Aviation As We Know It?

by on November 22, 2013 · 20 comments

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After last month’s announcement that flyers would be able to keep their electronic devices on throughout flights, even during takeoff and landing, the FCC has also said it is considering a proposal that would allow passengers to use their cell phones to make phone calls and text on aircraft flying above 10,000 feet (still not during takeoff and landing).

The news has triggered mixed reactions, but I can’t help cringe at the thought of a plane full of chatty businesspeople closing deals and lovesick partners babytalking to each other for hours on end. Maybe I’m overreacting, but my personal experience is that people tend to speak 2-3x louder when talking on their cellphones on airplanes so I don’t think flying would become any more enjoyable with this new found freedom.

Hopefully you won't be seated next to this guy.

Hopefully you won’t be seated next to this guy.

Don’t Hit Speed-dial Just Yet
In order for this to go into effect, airlines would have to outfit their planes with FAA-approved special antennas specifically for this purpose.

In a statement to the press, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was quoted as saying, “Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules.”

This isn’t the first time the FCC has considered such a proposal. One first came up in 2004, though it was later scrapped because the commission could not determine whether phones being used on aircraft would disrupt ground-based wireless networks or flight safety. However, since that time, several other countries have begun to allow cell phone use on flights without incident.

The proposal is set to be discussed at the FCC’s next meeting on December 12, and then it will face a vote before it can go into effect. If it does, it’ll be up to individual airlines to choose whether or not to provide talk and text service to their flyers.

Apart from safety, one major concern is the in-flight experience and how allowing passengers to talk and text would affect it. Delta conducted a study last year that found nearly two thirds of flyers though that the ability to make in-flight phone calls would have a negative effect on their experience.

Two thirds of flyers think their experience will look something like this.

Two thirds of flyers think their experience will look something like this.

Although my gut instinct is to agree – we’ve all sat next to that annoying loud person on the bus or in a restaurant who’s broadcasting their conversation to the entire room, and that definitely makes me nervous – thinking about my experiences on trains and public spaces, people tend to be polite and self-aware. It would also be nice to leverage fast cell phone data over the at-times slow in-flight internet (and avoid the monthly internet fees).

That said, you can more easily get up and move tables or to another train compartment, but there’s no escaping your neighbors on an airplane, and space is even tighter in a lot of cabins, so we’re all going to learn a lot more about our fellow passengers if this rule goes into effect and people start taking advantage of it. Part of me still thinks that the vast majority of people will abide by the rules of common decency and keep talking and volume to a minimum – and it would be nice to have access to a phone to get business done while flying, especially on planes not equipped with WiFi, but I’m a bit anxious about scenes of planes full of people talking on the phone and an incessant chatter on every plane – not to mention middle-of-the-night calls that wake up an entire cabin on overnight flights.

But what do you think?

See also: AP: Loud cellphone talkers next bane of air travelers?

Do you think easing these rules so people can talk and text on flights is a good idea?

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  • Susan Fenwick

    I like the fact that we can use our electronic equipment under 10,000 feet now, but I don’t expect to be calling anyone in flight. I actually like to use flying as an excuse to get unplugged from my contact list for a while so that I can either relax my brain or get some focused work done, depending on my mood.

  • Reida

    I also like that we can use our electronic equipment but think that the airlines should have rules to avoid unpleasant experiences for passengers. Maybe they could allow texting only and have a designated area for talking (in the front or back by the bathrooms) for people who really need to. This would discourage most people from just calling for a casual conversation and bothering everyone around them…

  • Santastico

    They better get FBI by the door of every plane that lands because there will be people to be arrested in every single flight. People already get nervous and uncomfortable in planes and can’t wait to arrive at their destination. I imagine that people talking on their phones and annoying other passengers will trigger anger and even fights on the plane. I cannot imagine it will be a healthy environment at all.

  • Amanda

    This will be terrible. People have no consideration of anyone when on a cell phone. Ladies just think of the conversations that people have now when using public restroom stalls. I just don’t understand what conversation is that important. On top of that you are going to have the stewardesses and pilots on their phones as well since we are addicted to our smart phones. What kind of issues will that cause?

  • Anthony

    Most likely this will require a base station on the plane and so phone calls and texts will be charged as if they were roaming calls. Think the old Airfone system but with your own handset. How many people are going to use the phone if they need to pay extra to do it vs signing onto wifi and sending a quick email?

  • Pat McK

    Even if it’s approved by the FAA, and the airlines install the antennas, I doubt anybody will actually use it. The airlines will charge an exorbitant fee for this service and price themselves out of it. Remember when phones were built into the seat backs for people to talk on for a bajillion dollars a minute? Just like that.

  • Sean Hall

    Wow, Alec Baldwin complains and look what happens.

  • Nick

    Your “experiences on trains and public spaces” rarely finds you trapped in that situation for hours with no chance to remove yourself from the situation. The last time I flew, a young lady sat down across from us at the boarding gate and began the most inane and self-absorbed conversation I’ve ever had to endure — but I only did so for the first ten minutes, after which we moved to a quieter seat. I noticed the young lady still working her jaw when we boarded, phone clutched tightly to her ear, oblivious to those around her. That’s your seat-mate, good luck with it.

  • Austin

    On a second thought, what if your flight is delayed & one is going to miss their next connection? Typically the flights attendants are of no useful assistance in the air. Perhaps we could call the airline & sort it out before touch down.

  • LJA

    No no no god no! You say:
    “Part of me still thinks that the vast majority of people will abide by the rules of common decency and keep talking and volume to a minimum”
    - – but there will ALWAYS going a few self-absorbed jerks in every crowd and in the small, cramped quarters of a plane all it ever takes is one above-the-norm audio interuption to drive rows and rows of people into madness. Flown with a baby lately?

  • Austin

    We all have to be considerate of others. Just maybe she was real nervous.

  • yw82go

    I can tolerate crying babies, I used to have some. But self important loud mouth business persons (almost always men) there is no excuse for; such as in the quiet “no cell phones” area of the Admiral’s Club. Unfortunately, on a plane there is no escape.

  • penny

    I’d take the self important business person over the bratty screaming monster kids any day, seriously, once sat through 5 straight hours of a screaming child of Middle Eastern descent who was pissed his parents (Dad) didn’t get to sit together so he screamed for 5 continual hours at the top of his lungs…not an infant, a 4 or 5 year old brat….Dad acted like he couldn’t hear the monster. The whole plane was ready to dump this kid out over the Atlantic, I thought the FA/s would have a breakdown as the whole plane was on edge. That said, as a business person, I’d like to be able to deal with problems as they arise. I don’t find person on the cell phone any more offensive than loud talkers, tv/music headphones, laptops or brats. I am convinced if the airlines started CHARGING full fare for the kids, there would be fewer of them. I’m on vacation now, sat next to a man on a FULL FLIGHT on the way over who literally held a 1 year old the entire flight. Fortunately not too whiney but seriously, kid SHOULD have been in a regular seat, it made it uncomfortably close for all of us on the first row.

  • jmm

    please everyone lobby whoever you have to to prevent this!

  • jjflysalot

    It’s bad enough I have to deal with Mr Big Shot Business “person’s” inane self important look at me talking on the cell phone convo BEFORE take-off. UGH! Uncle. No cell phones please.

  • James

    That’s it! I’m walking.

  • Allen

    Install a system where your ability to talk/text inflight depends on the voting/approval of those in your immediate vicinity. Everyone gets to talk, but if you get, say, 2 down votes, you lose the privilege immediately for 15 minutes.

    This enables fellow flyers to voice their opinion, the comm user to respect the opinion of his neighbors, and very little that the airline crew would need to do to maintain discipline.

  • stephan

    ..or maybe she was totally self-absorbed and ignorant of the effects of her behaviour on others…Nah, that couldn’t be it could it?

  • Stephan

    Terrible idea.

  • wwittman

    Oh my god… just reassure me they’re not going to allow radios in CARS are they?

    it’s INEVITABLE.
    Quite whinging and get used to it.

    Also, nothing stops you form pulling out YOUR phone and competing with ‘annoying guy’s’ supposedly too loud conversation.
    People will find a way to work it out… just like they do with the armrests.

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