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