One of the least enjoyable flights I ever took was a few years ago, on the way to Chicago.
Everything seemed well enough on takeoff, at least as well as things can seem for a nervous flier like me. The person on my left was a businessman who I guessed was in his 40s. He seemed affable enough, not likely the type to snore and drool on my shoulder.
About an hour into our journey, though, he pulled out something that looked like a Dictaphone. He had been reading a briefing document (something to do with transportation) and now, apparently, wanted to record his thoughts – which he proceeded to do for the next hour.
His sentences were populated with terms like "access time" and "accrued expenses" and sprinkled with a "cost-load ratio" here and "distribution variance" there. Each sentence typically ended with the word "stop" – like he was crafting a telegram.
I eventually realized that my travel companion was drafting a letter, something I wished he'd done before getting on the plane. It took the discipline of a Chinese army to stop myself from telling him to shut up – politely of course.
It was one of the most annoying one-way conversations to which I'd ever been party. I vividly recall thinking what a catastrophe it would be if they ever allowed cellphones on planes. I might never fly again.
Well, it appears that moment may be upon us.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is reconsidering its 22-year-old ban on in-flight cellphone use. And the way the commission chair is talking, it seems the FCC might be inclined to lift it. "Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive policies," Tom Wheeler said.
The FCC made a similar proposal in 2004, which was eventually dropped because of opposition by, among others, flight attendants, who were worried about the potential problems cellphones might create. Can you say air rage?
The latest overture has been greeted by equal hostility from the U.S. travelling public, which, according to polls, is resoundingly against the idea.
Of course, what happens in the United States doesn't automatically apply here. Transport Canada sets its own policies, although it might be difficult to maintain a ban if the Americans decide to go the other way.
Personally, I think the idea of allowing cellphones is insane, even if some airlines, such as Emirates, already do it. (And there were those back-of-the-seat phones you could once use with the swipe of a credit card – thankfully, they seem to have disappeared). Air travel is stressful enough without allowing people to talk on their phones, making sleep all but impossible for those around them.
Obviously, this is about money. The airline industry is being lobbied hard by the tech industry to open up the skies to mobile broadband. To which I say: By all means, allow us to access the Internet. Just not phone calls.
Air travel lost its lustre long ago. Travelling in coach is the equivalent of being trapped in an unhealthy, sometimes foul-smelling sardine can. Now you have to cough up to select your cramped seat even after you've already purchased your ticket. You can get dinged for your luggage too. Free meals have disappeared. I'm sure airlines would love you to pay them exorbitant charges to make in-flight calls.
I say no. Cellphones would only destroy the painfully devised strategies we've developed to survive what is already an unpleasant experience.
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