Can courtesy be legislated?
Courteous behavior certainly can be. And on Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee took a step toward banning one of the most discourteous of all travel-related activities: cell phone use on commercial airline flights.
The Committee approved by voice vote the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace (HANG UP) Act, a bill that would make permanent the current Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Communication Commission ban on cell phone use during flight. The bill will now be considered by the full House.
Flying already has the appeal of a root canal or an IRS audit. And there's a widespread feeling that constant cell phone chatter, in such a confined space, can only exacerbate air travelers' frustration and discomfort.
Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the bill's co-sponsor, made the case as follows: "With airline customer satisfaction at an all time low, this is not the time to consider making airplane travel even more torturous. Polls show the public overwhelmingly doesn't want to be subjected to people talking on their cell phones on increasingly over-packed airplanes."
According to an Associated Press account of the Committee's proceedings, the discussion amounted to a horror story free-for-all, with House members one-upping each other with tales of outrageous cell phone conduct. (It's worth remembering that members of Congress are typically frequent flyers, with first-hand experience of the aggravations of air travel, and a personal investment in improving the system.)
Among the few naysayers was Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who warned his fellow legislators that "You are trying to legislate courtesy, folks, and that just doesn't work." Perhaps not, but most flyers would agree that it's worth a try.