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In-Flight Phone Calls Are Not the Devil

Lots of people are unhappy with the FCC’s announcement that it would consider allowing cell-phone usage on flights. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) released a strongly worded statement opposing the rule change, citing the “importance of maintaining a calm cabin environment.” Delta’s CEO said his airline would never permit passengers to make in-flight calls. And a congressman from Pennsylvania introduced a bill that would ban phone calls on planes.

That’s a great deal of backlash against a proposal that hasn’t even happened yet. There are still regulatory wrinkles that need ironing, and most planes aren’t yet equipped to facilitate in-flight cell service. Even in the event of an FCC thumbs-up, things will not be so bad. The rule simply would give airlines the option to allow calls in the air. It would empower private enterprise to make its own decisions—and, if Delta’s reaction is any indication, not all carriers would comply. Does the prospect of government approval of in-flight phone calls really call for a congressional intervention?

The big concern that everyone is going bananas about is whether annoying, neverending phone conversations in extremely confined quarters will ruin all flights forever. Will we be forced to listen to hours of boring minutia while crammed into coach? It could happen. Admittedly, if in-flight calling becomes a thing, some guy who lacks self-awareness will have a long and loud chat about his CrossFit routine on some flight, somewhere, eventually. But the advantages to plane phone calls outweigh whatever problems might arise, and there are ways to reign in the inconsiderate chatterboxes.

Here are just some of the reasons you might want to use your cell phone during a flight:

  • To tell a friend or loved one that your flight is running late;
  • To call and tell your hotel front desk or bed-and-breakfast proprietors that you will be running late;
  • To rebook another flight if you’re going to miss your connection;
  • To call the airport after you realize you’ve left your sweatshirt, wallet, charger, or whatever in the terminal; and
  • To cancel your credit card in case you realize it’s missing during the flight.

There are plenty of other situations in which an in-flight call could be a trip-saver. Plus, nowadays, people text. Especially young people. Time reported that “Americans ages 18-29 send and receive an average of nearly 88 text messages per day, compared to 17 phone calls.” Even older travelers might be more inclined to type out a text on a flight, rather than chat away within earshot of half a dozen strangers. Most people don’t want to air their business in public, pun intended.

If loud, irritating talkers get out hand, the airlines and their squads of authoritative attendants could help us out. They could institute a “quiet time,” perhaps when the cabin lights are off. Or only allow phone calls during select phases of flights. “Calls are permitted for 30 minutes during this flight after we’ve reached cruising altitude,” an attendant might announce. “During that time, we ask that you keep your voices at a reasonable level.”

If the worst happens and flights turn into noisy chambers of auditory horror, get thee to Amazon and order yourself a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Problem solved.

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