Sunday, December 1, 2013

No! No Cell Phones on Planes!

Back in July, 2009, en route to my dad's funeral, traveling from Colorado Springs to Atlanta at 7 a.m., I was in no mood for babble after boarding. I just wanted to be immersed in my own thoughts and the occasional music piped into my earphones. I was fortunate to be seated next to two Delta air hostesses (both in their 30s) en route back to their hub in Atlanta. They were perfect seat mates for this sort of sympathy travel: they spoke softly to each other, watched the in-flight movie and let me to my own contemplation until about a half hour prior to landing.  Then the young woman seated next to me asked if I was going on holiday. I replied, 'No, headed for my dad's funeral in Port Charlotte, Florida'. This then spawned a longer conversation about his life, after she expressed condolences. Also, we briefly got into my own interests, that I'd just released a new book etc.

Basic point? No air captive wants to be hear babble unless it's: a) welcome, b) at the right time, and c)  is appropriate to the context. Aside from screaming bratskies on planes, one of the worst experiences the contemporary air traveler can have is to be seated adjacent to a narcissistic endless yapper who doesn't know when to call it quits. Fortunately, my encounters with such bozos are infrequent, given my wife and myself most often travel together.

Now, alas, with the FCC prepared to let airlines permit cell phone use during travel, we may be looking at the advent at the endless babbler  contaminating limited air space with noise pollution. Never mind s/he may not be talking to you. Merrill Markoe ('Shut Up and Fly!', TIME, December 9, p. 23) points out the problem eloquently:

"If seatmates start to babble to you, revealing themselves to be primary narcissists so enchanted by the sound of their own chatter that they'll keep talking even when they're out of topics - a nicely executed icy glare will  often ice them into silence....

Once cell phone calls are permitted, the FCC will be offering these people a behavioral pass. If their fellow passengers shut them down they can turn to their cell phones instead. The people on the receiving end of their calls may not even be paying attention. They might be playing video games and going 'Mmm...Mmm.....hmmm'

Meanwhile, the poor beleaguered seatmate remains stuck, listening to these grating narratives being repeated.."

This is spot-on and calls into scrutiny an observation I've made concerning cell phones, which is to say that once a person gets one he believes he's been catapulted into automatic big shot status. He may not be a Fortune 500 CEO but hey, the cell confers power and when he pulls it out he can assume the same power vibe as the CEO using his to demand his cubed vassals take their marching orders.  Thus, the mere ownership of one almost inevitably incites its use and generally this becomes overuse for any stupid reason whatsoever. In this sense, comedian Louis CK was absolutely right when he provoked angst by noting it's merely one more device to keep people thinking they're "doing something"  - when they aren't doing diddly or squat. (Obviously, emergency situations are different.)

Markoe interjects this on noting that the typical response will be "People need their cell phones now!" They "can't expect to exist hours without them!"   Which is balderdash and plays into Louis CK's point that people without a life (a real life) merely employ them to try to escape their own sense of isolation, loneliness. In the olden days, back in the 60s, people read books when on airplanes - but evidently this is no longer "cool". Now,  one must be seen instead holding a stupid little device in his hand and blabbing away to some poor forlorn fool who probably has an actual life and things to do.

Am I a curmudgeon? Well, ok, I do have curmudgeonly tendencies since having lived nearly seven decades I've seen way too much bullshit, and PR crappola that is exploited when people wish to avoid hard truths. It's easier for too many to live in unreality than reality. But consider this: unless you are in Business Class, flying has become increasingly god-awful. There's less and less room between the seats (typical seat widths are now 17-17.5" compared to 22" in the 60s),  and the pitch of seats is now so restricted you can't  lean backward without asking permission of the guy behind you. Meanwhile, the food is like warmed over kibbles, seat interspaces are like small garbage dumps, and any real food (at least closer approximations) costs extra.  See also:

Now, given this, why in hell would any sane person wish to add over-caffeinated road warriors - jabbering away like pseudo big shots - to this already foul environment?

At least the FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler (and his 4 commission cohorts) only issue rule change proposals, they won't be enforcing any. Thus, each airline will get to decide whether it wants to allow passengers to make cell phone calls. Already Delta, after taking an online passenger poll, has found 70% absolutely do not want it. In a statement issued 2 weeks ago Delta said: 'The overwhelming sentiment among our customers is that cell phones can only make their flying experience worse'.

Exactly! But make no mistake other airlines - less classy and less attendant to passengers' wishes - will seek to exploit this as an opportunity to boost profits. In this case, phone companies would charge you extra for the calls made in flight and airlines would get a portion of those fees.  And make no mistake that airlines will want a piece of the action, because - if they accept cell phone calls- they'll have to install telecom equipment to make calls possible. And that won't be cheap.

Other suggestions have been made that are reasonable and ought to strike a balance. One of these is that airlines ought to ban use of cells for any flights 5 hours or less. This is short enough so that anyone who needs to communicate should be able to do so through email or text message just by connecting to the in-flight Wi-Fi service.

On longer flights, airlines could install sound proof phone booths, perhaps about half the size of the airline rest rooms. Such a move would satisfy both the hyper-connected, wannabe big shot traveler- who thinks he's too important to ever be out of reach - and the rest of us who just want to reach our destinations without going ape shit in the cabin and being arrested as "domestic terrorists" for strangling a cell blabber in his seat.

Let's hope other airlines besides Delta see the light, and look to enhancing their passengers' flight experience (or at least not making it worse). But I wouldn't make book on it!

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