Should Cell Phones Be Allowed on Planes?

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By: Roy Berger, MedjetAssist President/CEO

Serenity now!

Seinfeld devotees will recognize that as the mantra for Frank Costanza, George’s dad, to shout every time he felt his blood pressure rising. Soon it may be heard regularly on airplanes across the United States.

There isn’t much sanctity left during the travel process. It begins when you try to find a parking spot at the airport, then pay for checking your luggage and over to the TSA boarding pass and inspection queue. Finally, you get in another line to grab something to eat or drink and then as soon as the announcement is made you sprint to board the aircraft and jostle for that very valuable overhead space.

When the aircraft doors close, the cell phones are turned off and finally you have some peace and quiet (and serenity) until the wheels touch at the other end. For now anyway.

In a moment of lunacy, the Federal Communications Commission has determined what we knew all along- that cell phones do not interfere with FAA communications, so it just might be okay to leave those phones on for flight. The FCC, by a narrow 3-2 vote last month, okayed a further study into lifting the cell phone ban while in the air.

Now the conversation the buffoon sitting next to you is having with his colleague at work on why they are justified to terminate Mildred will continue ad nauseam for all to hear. And why does he have to shout? Does he really think he’s impressing anyone?

Imagine the possibilities. You’ll be able to learn all about Aunt Kay’s illness; Gabe’s baseball game the night before; why Whitney and Julie can’t stand to be around Paul; do you really think Scott is working late and why can’t you ever find Cathy at the office when Eric is not there? That’s not all. Yes we agree Tina is very attractive but we have no idea if she will go to dinner with you on Friday night and to tell you the truth we don’t give a hoot. Do you really believe we are buying that you shot a 68 over the weekend and missed two makeable birdies? And yes, your son is incredibly smart, in fact just might be the smartest kid in North America, if not the world. Enough already.

Anybody over 50 probably remembers the good old days when you could smoke to your lungs content on commercial airplanes. There was a designated smoking section, located to the rear of the aircraft, where you could sit and do nothing but breed emphysema. However, as the cabins weren’t segregated, the smoke circulated all throughout the airplane. Walking back to the rest room past the smokers became particularly hazardous. Smoking on aircrafts was officially banned in 1998 but most airlines outlawed it years earlier.

Today’s unpleasant travel experience is threatening to become a lot worse. The sanctity of the doors closing and the phones shutting off, that I welcome on a flight, is about to become a smoking section without the fumes but with all the residue.  

Amtrak has ‘quiet cars’ for those that want to ride the train without the background noise of conversations you cannot care less about. Even if airlines choose ‘quiet rows,’ the incessant noise and chatter will permeate just about the entire airplane anyway.

Fortunately this is far from a done deal. Even if the FCC approves the concept, the Department of Transportation will get a chance to throw around its weight and roadblock it. Also, the cell phone carriers will need to implement a rate structure for flight- did you really think you could talk from 35,000 feet under your unrestricted roaming plan? It would become the ultimate definition of ‘roaming’ but not what Verizon had in mind when they created your plan.

Thankfully both Delta and Southwest have already come out and said they will continue the ban even if the respective agencies approve it. Let’s hope they are the trendsetter’s and the other airlines will follow. If not, then we can wish for Frank Costanza as a seatmate.   

Serenity now!

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