Marketplace Scratch Pad

Should we ban cell phones during flights?

Scott Jagow Aug 31, 2009

Yeah, I know mobile phones are already banned while flying in the US, but there’s been talk of lifting that rule. One Congressman is trying to stop the madness before it even starts.

Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio is sponsoring a House bill called the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace Act–or HANG UP. It would prevent the FCC from allowing phone use during flights, as some foreign airlines do. DeFazio wrote this opinion piece in US News and World Report:

It is bad enough when the person sitting next to you on an overnight flight leaves the light on. Now imagine trying to sleep while he yaks on the phone. And on a plane, unlike on a bus or a train, a passenger cannot get up and move to get away from a person’s cellphone conversation…

Ringing cellphones and loud phone conversations will not only disturb and annoy fellow travelers but could result in arguments and fights at 30,000 feet, forcing flight attendants to serve as referees.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA is all for DeFazio’s ban. So is the National Business Travel Association. The people in favor of cell phones during flight seem to have a special interest in seeing it happen. Carl Biersack, executive director of the Inflight Passenger Communications Coalition, wrote this retort to DeFazio:

Despite predictions that in-flight cellphone usage would lead to Armageddon, the global rollout has been just the opposite. In 20 months of global usage, there has not been one reported incident or problem…

The proposed ban is based upon the incorrect assumption that everyone else on the planet is just more polite than we are and that American flight crews cannot maintain cabin decorum as their foreign counterparts have done and continue to do every day. As with all technology advances, Americans can and will rapidly learn to make the necessary etiquette adjustments.

You buying that? Besides Biersack’s firm belief in American politeness, he argues that calls from the sky are expensive enough to deter usage. Plus, there are a limited number of calls that can go out at one time. And he says the cabin’s background noise will drown out yakking passengers.

DeFazio thinks as technology progresses, the limit on outgoing lines and the high rates will disappear. He says the background noise will only make people talk louder.

I find it hard to believe that an activity that is barely tolerable now would be improved by allowing people to make phone calls… you know, based on the experience of being just about anywhere else in public these days.

But what do you think? Oh, and if you need a good chuckle, this piece is pretty damn funny.

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