A Can of Worms: Cell Phones on Planes

A CNN article quoted FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announcing the opening of a can of worms: “Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers.”

Outdated? Restrictive? Cell phone calls on airplanes an opportunity?

It’s a not an opportunity. It’s a terrible idea. Period.

People are already annoyed by those who talk on a cell phones in public places. When they do it on public transportation like a bus or a train the frustration ratchets up. At least on a bus or a train it is sometimes possible to change seats or to move away from the offending party.

Not on a plane. While chatterbox is yammering away next to you, you are stuck. I remember one night leaving on a flight from JFK. We were in a line of planes forty-five minutes long waiting for take off. The captain did what he thought was a nice thing: He let passengers use their phones to make calls. The guy next to me immediately called his buddy two planes ahead of us and, for the next half hour, proceeded to discuss the snail’s pace of the jets moving forward toward take off. And I had to listen to every word of his absurd conversation. And I couldn’t change seats or move away.


And therein lies the problem with calls on planes. You can’t get away from someone who is using his phone. And now imagine two or three people or more all around you using their phones. It’s a terrible idea.

Besides, I treasure those few hours when I am on a plane where the business world can’t reach me. Those few hours give me a chance to think or work pretty much without interruption. As a businessman I really don’t want to open up the “opportunity” to be reached on my phone. The world already has me pretty much 24/7. The plane is my refuge.


Just the other day I got asked, “Well, what is the etiquette to talking on a phone on a plane?” My first thought was:

Don’t do it.

But then I got practical. If you are going to talk and it is all right to do it:

  • At least try to talk quietly. You don’t have to shout into the phone to be heard.
  • Try to make your calls short.
  • Stay away from confidential information, salacious descriptions, and simply TMI (too much information) others don’t want to or shouldn’t hear. In essence, if you can’t post what you’re going to say on a bulletin board for anyone to read, then don’t make it part of your conversation.
  • Be considerate of the people trapped in seats near you.

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