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Act Now to Stop Cell Phone Calls in Flight

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talker-300x208Now that the FCC is proposing to allow cell phone calls in flights – or giving the airlines the opportunity to allow them – it all gets down to the inevitable clash between passenger preference and revenue.

The technology to allow cell phone calls on flights is readily available and can be easily installed. The common sense, on the other hand, seems elusive.

For the moment, passenger reaction to the notion of cell phones aboard planes has been almost overwhelmingly negative.

Already, Delta Air Lines has said it will not allow the cell phone usage, no matter what permission the FCC may grant. Other airlines, like JetBlue, have said they are studying the issue.

Worried about sitting next to a chatty Cathy? Don’t book your next flight without knowing your airline’s preliminary stance on cell phone calls. Complete policy info here.

But, let’s pause for a moment and ask what’s there for JetBlue and other airlines to study? It all gets down to noise, personal privacy, and basic etiquette. If you measured the current decibel level of the inside cabin on most jets, it’s already too loud and not conducive to quiet conversations. Add to that the volume level required to conduct a telephone conversation and you’re at the shouting stage.

My prediction is that on some flights, the most-dialed number will then be 911. It’s stressful enough to fly without having to sit next to some guy screaming into the phone about his latest business deal or his most recent vacation.

Now think about what it will be like for flight attendants. Imagine the in-flight fights. It’s no surprise the Flight Attendants Association was the first to speak out against the policy shift:

“In far too many operational scenarios, passengers making cell phone calls could extend beyond a mere nuisance, creating negative effects on aviation safety and security that are great and far too risky.”

There are, however, some solutions that COULD work for onboard cell phone use.

We could go back to the future and install a heavily buffered airborne phone booth in the plane. Anyone could go in there and make a call, but would that work well? First, you’d end up with one deranged Type A passenger sitting in that booth the entire flight working the phone, and a long line outside of frustrated would-be callers.

The airline economists would be very quick to point out the revenue disparity: installing that booth would take two first-class seats out of the plane, and that’s a lot of lost fares. How would an airline compensate for that? You thought roaming charges were expensive internationally? Fasten your seat belts for the airborne charges.

There’s really no simple compromise solution here. In-flight Wi-Fi is one thing I actually value and have come to depend on it. Airborne cell phones? I think the only appropriate response to anyone who wants to use a cell phone in flight is to insist they go “outside” to make the call.

What do you think? Don’t just comment here. This week is the start a 30-day period when the FCC is hearing to public comment periods on the proposal. (File your comments under “13-301 Expanding Access to Mobile Services Onboard”).

By Peter Greenberg, originally published for LinkedIn

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