help, the jerk on the plane won’t stop yakking on the cellphone!

Posted on April 7, 2008

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As if air travel these days isn’t miserable enough already, (London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5, anyone?) the European Commission came up with an even more bone-headed idea to make passenger jets become truly torture chambers.

It has ruled that cellphones will now be able to penetrate airplanes flying over European airspace, the final bastion of peace and tranquility from the constant ringing of silly ringtones and people babbling away with no consideration to fellow passengers.

No thanks to a technology that will have small mobile phone base stations, called pico cells, placed in aircraft that will allow cellphone coverage in a plane. The plan for now is to have the system switched on only after the plane has taken off and is in a cruising altitude.

Cellphone calls from planes could start as early as next month, reports say. It will also cost more than calls made from land.

While it is up to individual airlines to decide if they wanted to introduce the system to their flights, Air France and Ryanair are two airlines that are already keen to introduce the cellphone technology into their aircrafts.

Would there be airlines brave enough to say, thanks but no thanks, and refuse to bring the system onboard? That airline would be sure to win a lot of customers who are hoping to get a few hours of peace on the flight.

Using a cellphone on a flight is not like having people use theirs on train rides or buses. Those are short commutes, compared with flights.

What happens if you had to sit through ten hours of a trans-Atlantic/ Pacific flight next to a whiny neighbor who insists on spilling every lurid detail of a bad relationship to the person on the other end of the cellphone line? You could not move away as easily as if you were on a bus or train. Neither could you jump out of the plane just to escape the noise and the yakking, the way you could a bus. Wouldn’t air rage incidences soar with the introduction of cellphone use on planes?

Of course, airlines could say there would be rules on cellphone use onboard. They could mollify customers dreading the onslaught of cellphone use by designating “quiet zones”, like they have on trains now. But let’s be real. There are bound to be the boorish types that would blatantly ignore these quiet zones or pretend not to be aware of them, destroying everyone’s peace. Are we then allowed to have them thrown out of the plane, along with their beloved cellphones?

Airlines might think businessmen will be the most eager to use the service and carry on working without missing a beat. But they might be surprised to know that many business executives greet the no-mobile phones rule on planes as a welcome respite, a time to catch up on reading or sleep and have some downtime to themselves.

The only hope left is that the rates to use cellphones on the planes would be so high that it would be prohibitive and discourage most people to bother switching on their phones and dialing.

Perhaps this is all inevitable, and it is just a matter of time before cellphones are used on airplanes. But the average human being is already so interconnected these days, it is bordering on the ridiculous. What is so bad about slowing down, turning off that mobile phone and reading or napping on the flight instead? It really will not kill us not to be in touch 24/7.

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