Listening to One-Sided Conversations: Should Cell Phone use be Allowed on Airplanes?

Carolyn Hoy

“We are cleared for takeoff. Please turn off and stow your electronic devices.” The voice of the captain comes over the plane’s loudspeaker, and all of the passengers switch off their electronics—or pretend to—and settle into their seats.

Nvate Cell phone use on airplanes FAA FCC

Credit: freedigitalphotos.net franky242

For most of them, this flying around the country is day-to-day work. Just another typical business trip. Just another short flight, a time of quiet, uninterrupted work in the midst of a life that seems to fly by faster than the 737 down the runway.

And then, another voice interrupts the quiet, and the businessmen and women look around to see what it is.

“Hello! How are you?” a voice bellows through the cabin, distracting the sleepers and the businesspeople. No one around him is talking to the person; he is talking to someone not on the airplane. He is using his cell phone.

Since cell phones first became popular in the early part of the 21st century, the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, the government organization which controls air travel across the board, no matter the specific airline, has banned their use in flight. The scenario above has been nothing more than a fear.

But on Oct. 31, 2013, the FAA announced that it had “determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices, or PEDs, during all phases of flight.”

Suddenly, brand new horizons opened up for the airline industry. Although making voice calls on cell phones was not yet deemed acceptable by the FAA, people began to worry—even in the midst of their excitement about being able to use their other electronic devices during takeoff and landing—that their quiet flights would one day be interrupted by voice calls on cell phones.

This was because the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, said, prior to the FAA announcement, that it would consider allowing cell phone calls on airplanes when the planes reached a height of at least 10,000 feet. This is the point at which, for all of aircraft and cell phone history up until the airlines were cleared individually by the FAA in late 2013, people could turn on their PEDs, but the response was overwhelmingly negative.

Articles like “Turns Out People Really Hate the Idea of Phone Calls on Planes” on the Huffington Post’s website were released, filled with Twitter and Facebook screenshots of people’s opposition to cell phones in airplanes.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, whose website states it is the world’s largest flight attendant union, told the FCC in a statement that it “should not process with this proposal” to allow voice communication in flight. The union claimed that “besides potential passenger conflicts, Flight Attendants also are concerned that in emergencies, cell phone use would drown out announcements and distract from life-saving instructions from the crew.”

For now, cell phone calls are still considered dangerous in-flight anyway, so the people who took to social media to stand against in-flight voice call use, or just voiced complaints to nearby friends, can rest easy.

Should the FAA one day approve even voice calls, passengers who do not want their peaceful flights interrupted with someone else’s one-sided conversation may still have little to fear. According to a Huffington Post article written before the FAA’s official announcement, “experts say it’s likely [U.S. cell phone carriers will] adhere to pricing schemes used in global passengers.” The article said it could cost several dollars a minute, if the FAA ever approved voice talk anyway. Most people will likely decide that, like the movie theaters already believe, “that call can wait.”

For now, travelers can enjoy the quieter benefits of the new FAA regulations. On most airlines, they can use Wi-Fi—and even iMessage and other Wi-Fi texting softwares—from what the airline industry calls “gate to gate;” in essence, passengers will never have to turn off their electronic devices. The days of pulling out headphones and hiding one’s iPod under the seat when the flight attendant comes by, the days of having that book that one pretends to be reading when within eyesight of the crew, are the lost baggage of an outdated era in air travel.

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