Phones on Planes? No Thank You!

By  |  Tuesday, September 29, 2009 at 12:18 am

BlahI think of myself as not having a Luddite bone in my body. But there’s one example of American technological backwardness that I’m extremely comfortable with: the fact that we can’t use cell phones on planes. When I sit near someone–or, more typically, multiple someones–making a deeply personal and/or deeply boring call before takeoff or after landing, I always feel like I’m being held hostage. The notion of being subjected to six hours of such stuff on the way across the country is downright scary.

The New York Times has a story about the fact that there are now 15,000 flights a month on which use of cell phones is permitted–none of which are operated by U.S. airlines. The FCC still forbids them to let passengers use their phones, and as with many rules related to air travels, the reasons are somewhat murky. It’s only partially because phones might interfere with planes’ navigation equipment–wireless carriers are also worried that calls from 35,000 feet would screw up their roaming agreements. Widespread opposition by both the traveling public and flight attendants presumably doesn’t help the cause, either.

The Times quotes executives involved in in-air calling saying that fear of phoning is misplaced–the engine noise makes it hard to hear strangers’ calls, and it’s all supposedly a lot less obtrusive than you’d think. Maybe so. And while the Times story doesn’t make clear whether callers on international flights are paying a premium vs. calls they make from terra firma, I’d like to think that in-flight calling is costly enough to keep conversations brief and to the point. (I don’t remember being annoyed by my fellow travelers’ calls back during the golden age of Airfone, and even made an Airfone call or two myself in a pinch.)

Look, I’m willing to confront the possibility that I’m being an old fogy. The worst thing about calls made when a plane’s on the ground is their sheer obviousness to those who overhear them–how often have we all heard the words “Hi, we haven’t taken off yet” and “Hi, we just landed”? Maybe in-air calls would be less grating. I suspect that it’s inevitable that they’ll come to domestic flights, and I’m willing to wear industrial-strength noise-shielding headphones and to direct my attention to my laptop if need be, (My laptop will be online via in-flight Wi-Fi if it all possible–I told you I’m not a Luddite.)

Anyhow, let’s wrap this up with a T-Poll:


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23 Comments For This Post

  1. gr3gg0rk Says:

    What is the difference between this and in-flight skype calls using that in-flight WiFi?

  2. Lokesh Says:

    Internet via WiFi is acceptable. Phones (Cell Phones) should not be allowed on the planes.. If its so much needed, there must be a satellite phone on each plane and the passengers must go to that phone, make the necessary call and come back to their seats..

  3. Steven Harris Says:

    Phones on trains are bad enough but at least there’s the possibility that you (or the noisiest phone chatters) might be getting off in a stop or two. On a plane you’re stuck with the blabbermouths until landing. And why is it that people who talk on their phones knowing they are in public and can be overheard, seem to be incapable of understanding that their unwitting eavesdroppers have very little interest in the personal details of their lives?

  4. shoutabyss Says:

    Keep phones off airplanes. I agree with the original post. Before takeoff and after landing is bad enough. Additionally, go one step farther and make it illegal to use a cell phone while driving, in a restaurant and while walking down the street. Enough already! Technology didn’t suddenly make us all the most important people in the world.

  5. smjump Says:

    are we becoming that dependent on technology that we cant survive a flight with out using our phones thats messed up.

  6. Paul Judd Says:

    The few airliners that I have heard about offering in flight wi-fi have stipulated that they block skype. That may not be universal (IE other countries may not have this restriction like cell phones). Going on the internet is one thing. Sitting next to a person yakking their head off without consideration for those around them (since you are not supposed to roam around the plane) is another thing entirely.

  7. floppypoppy1111 Says:

    I always like the people that take a call as they’re boarding so that they aren’t only talking loudly and disturbing everyone, but also holding up progress in the aisle. Stay classy.

  8. Erik Says:

    It’s ironic that we get so irritated listening to only one side of a conversation. We don’t get nearly upset when we simply hear two people talking. It’s much easier to eavesdrop that way.

  9. DJ Says:


    We live in the Age of the “Obliviot” (oblivious idiot). Seemingly unaware of their surroundings, these people simply do not care about others around them.

    Obliviots – you know who you are.

    You take calls in the movie theater despite admonishments during the previews telling you not to.

    You blab endlessly on the treadmill at the gym in excruciating detail about personal matters. (Sure I want hear about your boyfriend’s boudoir skills.)

    You drive your tank-sized SUV with one hand glued to the phone pressed up to your noggin. (FYI–any attorney worth his salt is going to subpoena your phone records in a heartbeat should you plow into a school bus. Think about that the next time you dial and drive.)

    I can’t imagine a more horrible flying experience that being wedged between two jabber-jawed obliviots and just being mercilessly pummeled by inane conversation after conversation.

    Sweet Jesus, take me now.

  10. Nikole Hahn Says:

    Very true. I don’t think I’d want to listen to fifty people talking on the cell phone for three hours or eighteen hours. I might check myself into the mental ward upon arriving at my destination if I were subjected to such torture.

  11. Michael Says:

    it is annoying anywhere, restaurants, line at the DMV, on the bus, fast food bathrooms … lol

  12. quinntessentiallyme Says:

    It would give new meaning to: “Can you HEAR ME NOW????” The engine noise is loud but I fear cell phone users would just talk louder. WiFi would be great but not cell phones. Imagine the guy in front of you with his seat pitched all the way back into your lap, having a beer and a fight on the phone with his girlfriend. “Shutter” No, some people don’t think before they dial.

  13. Brooke Paxton Says:

    I am with you. Cell phone usage on planes would be beyond awful. It’s bad enough having to listen to a person’s phone calls in restaurants or public places, especially when it seems that cell phones make everyone talk twice as loudly as they normally would in regular conversation or on a land line. Planes are the last refuge where a traveler can actually take a book onboard and be able to read a majority of it in relative peace and quiet. I’m not looking forward to the day where my attention to my book is riped away by some obnoxious cell phone caller who just has to tell what’s his name about the latest gossip that he/she heard or about some more than embarrasing situation that he/she got his/herself into.

  14. Allen Huang Says:

    I find it funny, the flight attendants are SO naive!

    I tell them that my phone is on “Flight Mode” (i.e. no cellular reception)
    and they’re like: “No! Turn it off regardless!”

    What about Laptops then?
    and Digital Cameras?

    oh no wait! Your MP3 player might just cause the crash…

  15. Scikid Says:

    I guess phones can get annoying if people talk too loud…

  16. lifeaftereighty Says:

    I just had a horrible thought. Maybe, with the information highway always coming at us, we’re getting to a point where we can no longer stand silence. Wherever people are, they’re talking–always. Mostly on a cell phone.

  17. satansez Says:

    I once grabbed someones’ cell phone from them and told them, “I ain’t gonna let you make this plane f*&king go down because you had to make a call! Stow it – and let us try to have a peaceful flight!”

    A few people cheered!

    But not the person I grabbed the cell phone from. Go figure! I GAAAAVVVVE IT BACK after my rant!

  18. John J Dill Says:

    Under most circumstances a person can wait until they land. However, let’s imagine a time when YOU are involved in a serious mess-up – near death auto accident, network crash that takes down 1/3 of the country, nuclear meltdown – and the person that has the exact answers is on a plane. I think YOU would agree that the person should be able to receive and make a call. Sometimes there are single people that have answers to BIG situations. And, cell phones do provide more communications than voice. Once something is stopped take time to start it up again, for the exception. Just put a baby next to the cell phone user.

  19. Rachel Says:

    I was on a commuter bus one day…trip is about an hour…The guy behind me, sitting in the last seat, was on his phone the whole time…and speaking so loudly…when I finally asked him to pipe down… he told me to mind my own business…I laughed at that on the inside….I told him that is precisely what I am trying to do…the bus errupted in thanks you’s.

    I mean this is ridiculous…it’s funny because I have one friend who will ONLY text….even when you leave him a voicemail..and I have fussed with him about that…but if one can strike a balance…that is wonderful for these people who can’t disconnect in public places.

    “The Times quotes executives involved in in-air calling saying that fear of phoning is misplaced–the engine noise makes it hard to hear strangers’ calls, and it’s all supposedly a lot less obtrusive than you’d think.”

    HA HA HA!!!

    I find this statement particularly hysterical because…the engine noise only serves to make these “obliviots” talk louder and louder and louder….they don’t realize that because they are always on the phone…..

    I really appreciate this blog and particularly because it came from a NON-Luddite…..when one complains about technology…it seems that you are suddenly anti-tech…which I am not…but I do have good manners and much consideration for my fellow man and know when to use which piece of technology at what time. I am with you brother!

    Thank You

  20. Poe Says:

    Ahhhh, that would be pretty annoying when the people next to you keep yapping about their puppies and pimples. The only solution then is to talk LOUDER.

  21. Seumas Says:

    There is no valid reason for refusing to allow cell phones or other devices to be used on air planes. The only reason airlines don’t allow their use during flight is that they’d rather get a cut of the $4.00/min that you pay to AT&T using the in-flight credit-card-swiped telephone on the back of the chair in front of you. It’s a pure money grab.

    If there was any concern for the safety of the airplane, do you seriously think they would let three hundred people on every single plane bring laptops and ipods and cell phones on board and risk the safety of every person on the flight on the honor-system?

    Now, I can understand that someone sitting next to you using a cell phone can be a little uncomfortable or annoying, even if the person is being polite and as considerate in their use as possible. However, what someone else does shouldn’t really depend on how much it does or does not annoy you. We don’t like screaming babies or annoying brats kicking the backs of our seats. I don’t like sitting next to a talker who won’t leave me be the entire trip. Sometimes someone with the sniffles can drive you insane over a several hour period through no intention of their own.

    However, we don’t forbid any of those things and we certainly don’t eliminate them from the air planes. So why are phones so special? Perhaps have a rule that cell phone use is permitted “at a reasonable volume level” and ask people to put their phones away if they are not able to keep it to a reasonable decibel level? What does it matter to you or me if the guy in front of us is talking to the person in the next seat or someone on a phone? Other than the fact that we all get or collective rocks off bitching and moaning constantly about cell phone use, just like we get off bitching about “kids today and their baggy sagging pants”?

  22. Seumas Says:

    “I once grabbed someones’ cell phone from them and told them, “I ain’t gonna let you make this plane f*&king go down because you had to make a call! Stow it – and let us try to have a peaceful flight!”

    A few people cheered!”

    Then those people would be idiots. If a single cell phone or ipod could bring down an airplane, do you seriously think they’d let a few hundred people on every plane with them and trust the safety of the entire crew and passengers rest on trusting two or three hundred people not to have their device on or in-use?

    Banning phones because you find their use annoying is one thing. Banning it because you want people to pay four bucks a minute using the AT&T phone on the plane that the airline gets a cut of and saying “it’s because one connected call will spiral us all into the earth below us!” is bullshit.

  23. Seumas Says:

    I think we should all make a compromise. If people talking on cell phones in public is so offensive to you (and it can indeed be annoying) that you want it banned on airplanes and restaurants and anywhere else — great! In return the rest of the world asks you to keep your damn crying spoiled brats back home, because believe me, I have never encountered a jerk on a cell phone that was one tenth as annoying as your idiotic loin-spawn.

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