Feature

Cellphones: Lifting the in-flight ban

The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing its 22-year-old ban on in-flight cellphone calls.

Think cramped seats, no legroom, and screaming babies make air travel miserable? said Nancy Trejos in USA Today. “Imagine what it will be like to sit next to a person yammering on his or her cellphone” for the whole six hours from New York to Los Angeles. That nightmarish scenario could soon become reality, now that the Federal Communications Commission has announced it is reviewing its 22-year-old ban on in-flight cellphone calls. The FCC banned those calls over fears they’d interfere with ground-based telecom towers, but new technology means mobile devices can now be safely used on board—for an extra fee. The FCC must have lost its mind, said Mitch Albom in the Detroit Free Press. “Are they trying to start a war up there?” Forcing passengers to listen to their neighbors’ inane chatter when all they want is to sleep or to read a book would be a certain catalyst for air rage.

Permitting cell use need not lead to anarchy at 25,000 feet, said Cecilia Kang in The Washington Post. The FCC could establish firm rules governing the use of cellphones that would keep things civil. Airlines could set aside a time window for phone calls on any one flight, or set up quiet cabins, or let passengers send text messages but not talk. Airline staff would be the ultimate arbiters of in-flight manners, with the ability to cut off the connection between the plane and phone networks. For most people, allowing cellphone use would actually make flying “a lot more pleasant,” said Stephen Stromberg, also in the Post. They’d no longer suffer “abject boredom on lengthy flights,” and since they’d mostly text, email, or use their Internet connection, they could get a lot of work done—quietly.

That’s what I’m worried about, said Nora Caplan-Bricker in NewRepublic.com. When I heard about the proposal to lift the ban, my first thought was how I would “squander my own chance to, however briefly, unplug.” Sure, I could leave my phone turned off during the flight, but if my day-to-day efforts not to check my texts, Twitter, and email “every few seconds are any indication, I won’t. The last time I read uninterrupted for two hours, I was definitely on a plane.” The person whose in-flight cell use I want to be protected from isn’t you. “It’s me.”

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