by Al Sacco

Mobile Phones on Airplanes: Thumbs Up or Hang Up?

Aug 01, 20084 mins

I don’t know about you, but the thought of being crammed into a middle seat between two folks yapping away on cell phones during a flight literally sends spasms down my spine.

I’m not a small man, by any means, and it’s hard enough for me to travel nowadays, between the ever-decreasing legroom in coach—first class, isn’t that some kind of overnight mail?—and the fact that I can’t sit still long enough to make it through a single episode of Seinfeld anyway. In my personal case, in-flight calling would be a form or torture akin to water boarding. (I jest, but you get the point…)

graphic of business man on cell phone with airplane in the background

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post/rant extrapolating on how the idea of ubiquitous Wi-Fi—and therein VoWi-Fi calling–on public buses, trains and airplanes was about as attractive to me as staring at the sun during a solar eclipse. Over the past four months, my thoughts on the subject have only become more vehement: In my opinion, an airplane, bus or train without a “no calling section” is the equivalent of an all-smoking plane—in both cases, I’d be stuck sitting next to a bunch of callers/smokers with no way means of egress.

My problem is not really with folks who might be using Wi-Fi to catch up on e-mail or surf the Web, though I have my reservations about them, as well. These are both solitary activities in which people can keep to themselves—and plenty of folks are already using laptops, UMPCs and smartphones to play games or watch movies during flights. The problem comes into play when the activities of others encroach on my ability to peacefully count the seconds until I can stretch out my legs and fully exhale. In-flight calling systems—VoWi-Fi or otherwise–and cellular zones fall into the later category.

Sure, those clunky wired in-flight phones have been available for years, but the inconvenience and price of employing them have largely restricted their use to emergency situations only.

I decided to revisit this subject because of an act that’s currently making its way through the U.S. Congress. The Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace (HANG UP) Act, which was approved via voice vote by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday, according to the IDG News Service, would extend and make permanent an existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Federal Communication Commission (FCC) ban that makes in-flight cellular calling by passengers illegal.

The associated House of Representatives bill, called H.R. 5788, is now set to move on to the House for full approval, and companion legislation also would need the thumbs up from both the Senate and President Bush before becoming official. A related measure that’s part of another FAA movement is already in the Senate, the IDGNS says.

In my last post on the subject, I included a poll to determine where my readers stand on the subject of Wi-Fi—not just cellular calling zones or VoIP–and public transportation. The results of that poll can be broken down as such:

  • Forty-six percent of the 136 voters said “The more Wi-Fi availability, the better.”

  • The remaining 54 percent of participants were evenly split (27 percent each) between the prospect of no Wi-Fi whatsoever on public transportation and regulated Wi-Fi, in which specific areas of a train or plan would be designated as Wi-Fi friendly.

Though the majority of voters said they’re willing to deal with negatives aspects of Wi-Fi access on public transportation in order to take

advantages of the benefits, I’d be willing to bet many of them would change their tunes if the questions were specifically about in-flight calling and not just Wi-Fi.

Let’s find out. How do you feel about the prospect of in-flight cellular calling? Sure there are benefits, such as increased connectivity and the ability to communicate via voice with colleagues during travelling. But are those benefits really worth the hassle of listening to that 15-year-old hipster in the aisle in front of you who either speaks uncommonly loud or wants to make absolutely certain everyone within a ten-seat radius knows which movie her and Jonny Boyfriend will be attending that night?

Cast your vote or drop a comment below to share your opinions on why or why not in-flight calling should be banned.