Keep flights free of cell phone calls

If FCC lifts ban, airlines would decide

By The Mercury

Perhaps apart from young children who’ve never been on an airplane, airline passengers today rarely associate air travel with enjoyment.

It might not quite be a chore — chores are less expensive — but air travel can be arduous nonetheless. Courtesy doesn’t yet cost extra, but on most airlines just about everything else does: baggage, meals, drinks, blankets, pillows, headphones, even a few extra inches of legroom. Pay toilets, eliminated years ago in airports, will doubtless be taking to the air soon.

About all that’s left is the relative silence amid the drone of the engines, and the peace to be alone with one’s thoughts or one’s book or, perhaps on one’s headphones, some entertainment.

Yet tranquility, too, is now apparently in peril, courtesy of the recent announcement that the Federal Communications Commission will discuss and possibly do away with the 22-year ban on in-flight cellphone calls.

In our view, and we’ll bet the view of most travelers, that’s a dreadful idea. It’s hard work trying to ignore someone else’s unignorable cellphone conversation — and at 35,000 feet, there’s obviously no escape. Even the Association of Flight Attendants is opposed to the move, in part because passengers might not hear important alerts from the captain and in part because flight attendants know how easily conflict can be sparked in an environment where conflict cannot be tolerated.

If it’s any consolation, even if the FCC allows cellphone use in airplane cabins, airlines won’t be required to permit it. Delta, for one, has said that it wouldn’t permit cellphone use on flights; its passengers have strongly urged against it.

Whether the rest of the industry would follow suit might well depend on how much the airlines, which seem to always be bobbing in and out of bankruptcy, need the money. In other words, airlines might find charging for cell phone use too lucrative to pass up. Or perhaps they’ll go the other way, levying a surcharge on passengers who want to enjoy a flight without being distracted by others’ cellphone conversations.

One recommendation that we’ve heard — prohibiting cellphone use on flights of up to five hours — would be a good starting point. Another possibility is allowing cellphone calls only for emergencies.

We hope neither the FCC nor the airlines loses sight of the fact that the status quo is working quite well.

Extending the ban on in-flight cell phone conversations might not make air travel any more enjoyable, but it would at least prevent it from becoming intolerable.

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