Dial Up the Friendly Skies

Opinion: Now we know that there's no real reason to ban cell phone use in-flight, lawmakers are getting creative in their attempts to control it, or kill it outright.

Remember when it was interference that was the reason you couldnt use your cell phone on an airplane? We were told that powering up the Samsung flip phone was sure to send the aircraft veering off course or into a tailspin.

Turns out that was a lie.

Planes arent controlled by cell phones, oddly enough. I guess that would explain why none have been knocked out of the sky by the PCS signals bouncing off them from the fabric of towers just six miles below.

So, now that everyone agrees that weve been duped, and pressure mounts on the FCC and FAA to allow cell calls in flight, lawmakers are switching gears. The new hotness in keeping you off your phone in an airplane: annoyance and threats of terrorism.

Frequent fliers, many of them elected officials apparently, will be put off by the sound of folks chatting on their phones, and oh, by the way, terrorists will be able to better coordinate attacks if they can call one another on board.

Earlier this month, a quorum of solons managed to weave their way through Beltway traffic, avoiding cell-phone-chatting drivers in order to discuss the perils of talking on the phone while strapped in an aircraft seat.

At the hearing before the House Aviation Subcommittee, Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., said he believed the last thing fliers wanted was to hear fellow passengers on the horn chatting about "ailments, dating problems, the latest reality TV show or up-to-the-minute estimated time of arrival."

The trouble is, congressman, we are hearing that stuff already, and it is directed at us. The most annoying thing by far on an airplane is someone talking—to me.

Each person who is having a cell phone conversation would be, by definition, leaving me alone. The use of cell phones on a plane would decrease the annoyance factor measurably. Please, oh please, give the woman jetting off from Raleigh-Durham something to do other than get between me and my Sync magazine.

As for the terrorism point, I dont know enough about how terrorists operate to know how much cell phones would help them, but I do gather that they are a resourceful bunch that has done just fine with the tools allotted them. Its hard to imagine they feel all that constrained by the cell phone ban. In fact, Ive often thought terrorists would be the only ones willing to pay $8 per minute to use that airphone built into the back of the seat.

If reason wins out and the cell phone ban is lifted, there are other federal agencies chiming in with "solutions" that dont necessarily nix the idea of airborne cell use. They do, however, involve the governments go-to move of spying on us.

At the same aviation hearing, law enforcement officials said theyd want to tap the conversations of those using cell phones on planes, presumably to discern between terrorists saying "the bomb" and teenagers saying "da bomb."

Though I will admit my expectation of privacy is diminished whenever my elbow is touching someone elses ribs, I cant imagine how such an expansion of wiretapping provisions would be legal. Since the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Securitys stated goal is to locate the seat number of a caller or jam transmissions that could be used to detonate explosive devices in the cargo hold, the technical feasibility eludes me as well.

Still, the FCC has received some 7,000 public comments since it floated the idea of lifting the cell phone ban late last year. Most are opposed to allowing cell phone use on airplanes, according to FCC officials. Thats a whole bunch of people who are concerned about being disturbed in a place I never imagined could be anyones fortress of solitude.

But to those folks, Id say Im all about downtime as well. My solution is to let everyone use their cell phones on the plane with only one restriction: Your ring tone must be that tranquil, soothing cricket sound. Or maybe the Mozart one. That one is nice, too.

Executive Editor of News Chris Gonsalves can be reached at chris_gonsalves@ziffdavis.com.


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