South African Airlines recently announced that they are seeking an exemption that would permit the use of cell phones during flights, before that it was Emirates and Singapore Airlines that began allowing limited cell phone use. But making calls while in flight still remains forbidden to most of the world’s travelers, and with good reason.
In the United States, two Federal agencies regulate the use of cell phones in flight, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FAA’s position is unequivocal and simply states that portable electronic devices cannot be used on civilian aircraft, with certain exceptions. The FCC is a little more specific in their prohibition by stating specifically that cell phones are not allowed to be used while an aircraft is in flight.
But why the unflinching language from the regulatory agencies?
The standard line from the airlines is that the interference from cell phones may affect the sensitive equipment used by pilots. There have been several studies conducted, none of which seem to be all that conclusive, but given the lives at stake, the Federal agencies have traditionally wanted to err on the side of caution.
So why are some airlines now allowing cell phone use?
I’m not an engineer and my knowledge of the airline industry doesn’t extend too far past knowing my zone number during boarding. But, it seems that we the passengers are the real reason behind the ban or lack of one involving cell phones.
For me, flying has always been a welcome respite from emails, phone calls and the general hustle and bustle of modern life. I really enjoy telling people that I’m about to board and can’t talk anymore. We as a society are hyper connected and it leads to more stress and unhealthy lifestyles. The one opportunity we have to log off and be honest about our inability to communicate is while on board a plane. I for one don’t want to give that up.
There’s also passenger cohesion to consider. If you think about it, flying is a very strange activity. Hundreds of strangers are packed into a relatively small space for hours, all enduring rapidly diminishing comfort and respect. In order to survive this experience with a modicum of dignity, we as passengers enter into a social contract with each other as soon as we board the plane. Whether we realize it or not, we promise not to be a jerk for the duration of the flight. Not everyone adheres to this golden rule of travel, but most do. Most people DO help little old ladies with their luggage and most ARE fairly courteous to their neighbors. Cell phones threaten this delicate balance.
Could you imagine 100 or more people on a flight each having conversations at various decibel levels? The result would be a constant buzz of conversation; a cacophony of awfulness. I would rather poke out my eyes than sit next to a business person talking about work for five hours. Or even worse, teens gossiping with their friends on a nonstop flight across the country. I don’t think I’m alone and I think that an already cranky flying public would be sent over the edge should cell phones be allowed during flight.
I know that some people feel like they’re the Most Important Person and the world will surely crumble into the sea and fire would rain down from the skies if they aren’t able to be reached by cell phone 24 hours a day. But you know what, that’s not the case. The people who are that important, like the President, have their own planes and can do whatever they want. No one else needs this level of connectivity.
By definition, technology grows at an exponential rate. As a civilization we have walked on the moon, explored the deepest depths of the oceans and made the creator of the Snuggie a gazillionaire. I have no doubt whatsoever that, if we so chose, we could find a way to allow people to use cell phones on airplanes. But we don’t want to.
I think that the vast majority of the flying public enjoys their hours of solitude, pretending that there is still a small level of civility inherent in modern travel. To take away one of the last vestiges of dignity from the travel experience is a colossal mistake that once done, can never be undone.
What do you think? Should the airlines allow cell phone use on board planes?