December 17, 2013
Is Banning Calls On Flights Really Necessary?
This week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) each began discussions on whether mobile phones could be used on planes. The FCC had long banned mobile devices as these could interfere with ground communication, but the DOT (which serves the interest of fliers) is looking to ban the use of devices, as it sees that phone conversations by passengers could annoy others.
As a frequent traveler, I already endure crying babies, cramped conditions and plenty of noise. But what’s the big deal with phones on planes? The argument I hear time and time again is that some passengers will gab it up gate-to-gate and this could be annoying to those sitting nearby.
Yeah, but the punishment will be an outrageous bill. Missing in the discussion is that in most cases the airlines would have to provide communication to the aircraft. Sure the carriers could get on board, but they’ll only do so if they can make money – a lot of money.
Phones had long been on planes, and while we don’t see these as often it isn’t because of annoying or long and loud conversations. It was because people didn’t really use the handsets in front of them. The reason was the costs. Back in the day it could be $5 per minute.
It kept calls brief and any method to deliver connectivity to handsets will likely be just as brief. The same will go for texting, email and any other form of relaying the network connection to planes.
There might be a few business travelers who absolutely find the need to talk, but they’ll pay an outrageous fee for the privilege. Even if more passengers opt to pick up the handset and talk, the costs likely won’t come down. Increased demand isn’t going to drive the costs down, nor will it likely improve the quality, which could remain spotty at best.
In other words, those at the DOT are making much ado about nothing, while the various bills introduced in the House and Senate are probably just wasting government time. It even begs the issue as to what a law actually means? Would it be a felony or a misdemeanor to make a call on a phone?
There is also a solution for fliers who fear those annoyances. It is called ear plugs. These work reasonably well, and if the noise is an issue try ear plugs and noise canceling headphones. This is a trick that works reasonably well for me, and I’ve managed to sleep through the people next to me fairly loudly discussing a business meeting and corporate strategy, as well on another occasion managed to endure hours of loud babies.
Noise is in issue when traveling, but banning mobile phone conversations isn’t going to solve problems – and likely can’t be easily enforced anyway. On the legislative end, I’d personally rather see Congress dealing with other issues besides people gabbing on the phone on a plane.
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