DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Airline passengers have already been stripped of their legroom, hot meals and personal space. Now, they might also lose their silence.
The Federal Communications Commission is considering lifting its longtime prohibition on making cellphone calls on airplanes, saying it is time “to review our outdated and restrictive rules.”
But for many passengers, that would mean the elimination of one of the last sanctuaries from our hyper-connected world. Everybody wants the ability to stay connected while traveling, but nobody wants to be trapped next to some guy yapping away during the entire trip from Detroit to Las Vegas.
WWJ’s Mike Campbell caught up with a few travelers at Detroit Metro Airport who said the thought of allowing phones on planes is enough to give them a headache.
— “I think it’s going to be a problem. It’s just plain rude. No one wants to hear your personal conversation.”
— “I’m tired of people sitting next to me carrying on a conversation already. If you’ve got business to do, you’re in the air, just take a break.”
— “I like to be able to relax while I’m on a flight and having people talking around me doesn’t excite me.”
— “Imagine every other person on their cellphone talking. It’s going to get loud. No thank you.”
Amtrak and many local commuter railways have created quiet cars for those who don’t want to be trapped next to a loud talker. It’s not hard to envision airlines offering “quiet rows,” although there will probably be an extra fee to sit there. Hopefully, they’ll be more effective than the old smoking and non-smoking sections.
One flight attendant union has already come out against any change, saying that a plane full of chattering passengers could lead to arguments and undermine safety.
But not everybody hates the idea. Several travelers at Detroit Metro airport said they would support a relaxation of the phone-in-flight ban.
— “Why not? I think it’s a good idea so that I can communicate with my loved ones if I need to.”
— “I’m busy and have to communicate in the air with my clients, so I’m all for it.”
— “I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a deal. Most people text instead of actually placing calls, so it really might not make that much of a difference anyway.”
— “Yes, finally! You know how boring it gets flying by yourself with no one familiar to talk to? Absolutely, 100 percent, yes.”
Most Middle East airlines and a few in Asia and Europe already allow voice calls on planes. Passengers’ cellphone signals are either relayed via a satellite or through a special “picocell” to the ground. Voice calls technically can be made on some U.S. planes today via satellite, but airlines block providers such as Skype, in part because they fear it will eat up the limited bandwidth.
Within hours of the FCC’s announcement, the cellphone industry voiced its support. Airlines already charge for Internet access, so it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine them charging for phone use.
Ultimately, it might be left up to the airlines to decide.
American and United Airlines said they would wait for an FCC decision and then study the issue. Delta Air Lines was much more firm, saying passenger feedback for years has shown “overwhelming” support for a ban.
JetBlue and Southwest also noted a desire for silence, but added that tastes and desires change.
“If everyone starts doing it and it becomes culturally acceptable, we’d have to consider it,” said Southwest Airlines spokesman Brad Hawkins. “But no one thinks it’s a good idea.”
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