April 10, 2007
Why you can't use your cellphone on an airplane

I don't actually have a problem with the ban on cellphone use on airplanes. Like any normal person, I'd rather not have to overhear however many one-sided conversations - it'd be a smorgasbord of TMI, which (let's face it), we can all do without. Having said that, the reasons for the cellphone ban are bogus and lame, and it annoys me at a fundamental level to have a rule like this based on such specious logic.

The airlines fear "crowd control" problems if cell phones are allowed in flights. They believe cell phone calls might promote rude behavior and conflict between passengers, which flight attendants would have to deal with. The airlines also benefit in general from passengers remaining ignorant about what's happening on the ground during flights, including personal problems, terrorist attacks, plane crashes and other information that might upset passengers.


However, the airlines know that some kind of plane-to-ground communication is coming, and they want to profit from it. Simply allowing passengers to use their own cell phones in flight would leave the airlines out of the profit-taking. Airlines would prefer that phones be banned while they come up with new ways to charge for communication, such as the coming wave of Wi-Fi access. Meanwhile, the ban is potentially more profitable.

It goes on from there. Note that evidence that "portable electronic devices" such as cellphones interfere with airplane navigation and/or communication systems is weak at best, and that if it were a real problem it would also be a major security hole - why hijack a plane when all you need to do is recruit people to turn on their cellphones at a key moment? I don't know about you, but if my choices are listening to my seatmates yak about their personal lives or having my cellphone and BlackBerry confiscated by the TSA, I'll put up with the yakking, thanks very much. Link via Marginal Revolution and Matthew Yglesias.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 10, 2007 to Technology, science, and math

This seems so easy. Allow cell phone use in a specific spot on the plane (say, standing outside the restrooms) and nowhere else. Need to make a call? Get up and walk over there. People sitting in their seats trying to read, sleep, or just have some peace are not bothered, but you can still make a call if you need to.

Posted by: John on April 10, 2007 8:33 AM

What I've read, actually, is that public pressure is behind the ban on cell phone use. There is not enough public interest in having people able to talk on their cell phones on a plane for the airlines to spend money to figure out how to make it happen.

I'm anti-cell use on the plane. It's too small, crowded, cranky-making, and uncomfortable to fly coach as it is. Add the annoyance of having to answer calls and/or listen to details about one's seatmate's health concerns, and I think the experience would be significantly worse.

Said public pressure, however, does seem to support using less noisy forms of telecommunications, such as wireless internet access.

Posted by: NicoleAllee on April 10, 2007 11:41 AM