FCC ban on in-flight phone calls is a lovely thing - The Buffalo News

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FCC ban on in-flight phone calls is a lovely thing

Tim Dick waited for his baggage as he sized up his fellow passengers who had just piled off a recent Southwest flight from Phoenix.

“Not to sound snobbish,” the Grand Islander said, “but there are business travelers and there are personal travelers.”

You can’t blame the guy. Dick spends about half his time traveling for work for a large technology company. Flying that much can get tedious quickly.

The armrest détente. The overhead bin skirmishes. The paltry peanuts. Boarding an airplane today is about as fun as waiting in line at the DMV.

“You’re on a bus right now,” Dick said. “That’s basically what it is.”

But there’s one last vestige, aside from speed, still separating airplane travel from its ground counterparts: a nonsensical Federal Communications Commission rule banning your seatmates from carrying on conversations with 20 of their closest friends in flight.

I say nonsensical because it appears there are no technical reasons for banning phone calls on airplanes. But it’s still a lovely, lovely rule. And it’s not as if the FCC – gatekeeper of television indecency and wardrobe malfunctions – doesn’t already have a hand in social norms.

When news surfaced last week that the FCC might consider peeling back a decades-old rule banning in-flight cellphone calls, there was plenty of airport grumbling. Many passengers would just as soon keep the ban than listen to endless one-sided conversations.

Just think of those excruciating minutes after touchdown when calls are allowed but everyone’s stuck clutching their bags, waiting for the moment they can race off the plane. Suddenly, weather conversations are critical.

“Most of the talk is basically nonsense, chatter, no value added,” said Alfred Lewis, who was working from his laptop last week in a quiet corner of Buffalo Niagara International Airport. “Just busy talk. That’s the problem.”

People will chat about anything, anywhere. It’s like they lose all sense of self-awareness with cellphones.

Take, for example, a recent cellphone call by former NSA Director Michael Hayden. The man once ran the CIA, but he made headlines last month for a call aboard an Amtrak train. His on-background conversation with a reporter was overheard by a nearby passenger – who couldn’t help but send out dispatches on Twitter.

Hayden’s conversations might be intriguing. But your average traveler’s talk? No thanks.

“Texting, fine; iPads, fine; but nobody wants to hear somebody else’s conversation while we’re sitting next to them,” said Robert Bailey, who flew in to visit his mother in Amherst for the holiday this month. “Everybody would be on the phone – ‘Is Aunt Lucy over? How’s the dinner going?’ Can you imagine at Thanksgiving and Christmas?”

There may be times when a quick phone call is necessary. And the cost of roaming charges and an airline cell connection might limit most calls.

But frequent fliers like Dick don’t put much faith in their fellow traveler’s ability to show self-restraint.

“There’s enough stress and headaches with travel than to have to worry about people yippity-yipping on the phone all day long,” Dick said.

There are people, for goodness sake, who go barefoot in planes – to the bathroom. Do you really think they can handle cellphone etiquette?

email: djgee@buffnews.com

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