The Checkout

Fly the Noisy Skies

Just when you think flying couldn't get any worse...

I took a trip to New York last weekend, flying U.S. Airways Shuttle. All went pretty smoothly; the plane even left the gate before the scheduled departure time both coming and going--a real treat.

So why am I complaining? On the way home, as I settled in for a short nap, I was brusquely awoken by a way too loud announcement, "Welcome to US Airways."

"OK," I thought. "Just go back to sleep."

But the announcement went on and on and on and on as the airline used its captive audience as a marketing opportunity. Fly to Ireland (with US Airways and its partners, of course), sign up for frequent-flyer miles, travel to Hawaii (again using USAirways or its partners), get a credit card (a US Airways affinity card, needless to say), buy something from the in-flight catalogue, go to Europe (yes, on USAirways!).

Enough already! I used to think commercials before movies were bad, but at least you can escape them--go buy some popcorn or walk the halls. But in the plane, I couldn't even get up and go to the bathroom since the "fasten seat-belt" sign was still on.

What really made me blue was the realization that all this noise may only be the beginning since the government is still weighing a proposal to allow passengers to use their cellphones in flight. Heaven forbid!

By  |  April 28, 2006; 6:30 AM ET Marketing
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Clearly a hard hitting observation and a serious problem that all airlines should jump on right away.

Or not.

Posted by: Steve | April 28, 2006 7:33 AM

I was on the redeye from Honolulu on Northwest a few weeks ago, and you know the little "ding" that the sound system makes before the pilot speaks? It was the loudest freaking "ding" you've ever heard. It made me jump every time. Not so conducive to sleep.

Posted by: h3 | April 28, 2006 7:33 AM

Wait till they permit cellphones! By the way, this airline is totally off the charts --- my flight from Boston to Phoenix was the worst ever (in 35 years of professional travel). Rotting food, plugged toilets, wrong seating chart (I got put in center seat by mistake), broken seatback, no signage at airport for what was an AmericaWest flight (meaning waiting in wrong line), surly employees. Take the train. Or JetBlue. Or something.

Posted by: Ron | April 28, 2006 8:14 AM

You flew US Airways. Always a mistake.

Posted by: Steve | April 28, 2006 8:16 AM

Oh, NO!!!! Not the hell phones! I'm not a frequent flyer, but I do take a commuter bus to and from work every day. A distance of 48 miles each way, sometimes 2 hours a trip. Nothing like being surrounded by 3 or 4 yakkers on cell phones, blabbing the entire trip about their money problems, family disputes, boring job or bowel problems. They even do a minute by minute account of their trip. "Hi, just got on the bus, I'll be home in about an hour." Then a few miles later "Hi, we're just passing Andrews. See you in a bit." "Hi, we're at Waysons Corner now. 'Bye." Give it a rest! Don't they know 46 other people can hear their conversations? One Gov't employee (got on at the FBI building) was even discussing background investigations of prospective employees, with a captive audience.

Get a grip, folks. The world is NOT enthralled by your private conversations. You're going to walk awful funny with a Nextel up your a**. If airplanes allow hell phones, I'm driving, no matter what the price of gas.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | April 28, 2006 9:13 AM

You can't escape - the airline travel experience is just one example where your space is continually assaulted. But take control. An ipod with noise blocking earphones will let you listen to what want - including nothing at all.

Posted by: Mike | April 28, 2006 9:28 AM

Good old foam earplugs work well too. They mute, if not completely block, jet engine noise, loud announcements, obnoxious seatmates, and screaming children. And they will help us deal with the cellphones as well. I agree with you that the announcements are another intrusion, but they are a minor inconvenience relative to other forms of airline sadism. When they cram us into tiny, poorly designed seats and stop providing pillows, do you really think they care whether we can sleep?

Posted by: jane | April 28, 2006 9:45 AM

I always take litle foam earplugs when I travel by train, plane, and sometimes bus. Cheap, disposable, and they don't block so much of your hearing that you won't know if something important is happening.

Posted by: mharding01 | April 28, 2006 10:12 AM

The noise blocking headphones are a great idea - I was on a flight and a screaming 18 month sat across the aisle from me - I thought what a horrible 6 hour flight this will be. I turned on the headphones and couldn't hear her. Their big, bulky,ugly and expensive but boy do they work! If you're a frequent traveller they are a must have!

Posted by: Jen | April 28, 2006 10:23 AM

I flew US Scareways last week too. (Not intentionally, I actually booked through United, but they apparently don't recognize their own flights that are operated by their recent acquisitions.)

I experienced the same yack yack yack that you did. Eventually, they switched over to headphone mode so I didn't have to listen to inane sitcoms the whole flight, but they made darn sure that everyone had to listen to their ad pitches.

Some enterprising entrepreneur could make a substantial pile of money by offering reasonably priced "quiet flights". I know I would be a customer.

Posted by: Silver Spring | April 28, 2006 10:35 AM

I have been on several flights recently where children were watching DVDs without using earphones. While I was happy they were entertained the noise of cartoons was extremely loud and irritating.

Posted by: c | April 28, 2006 10:50 AM

If you want those dirt cheap fares, they've got to make money somehow.

If you want all the amenities of yesteryear, complete with no marketing, be ready to pay the inflation adjusted price for it.

If you're not, then deal.

Most people aren't willing to pay, so we'll all have to deal.

Me? If I could get rid of half my fellow passengers on any given flight by paying an extra $100, I'd gladly do it.

Posted by: Tony | April 28, 2006 11:49 AM

Heck -- if what they are saying is public, then I'm going to participate in the discussion! I turn my head, look straight at them, smile, nod and generally act like they are talking to me.

The only time this sort of backfired, was one time in restaurant at the mall, a woman was discussing detailed personal family business on her cell phone, with her children sitting at the table. My husband and I were at the next table, trying NOT to listen to her lurid details. My husband turned to her and said "I can hear everything you are saying." Granted, he probably was pretty perturbed at that point, but she was raging on about her husband and how miserable her life was. She reported him to mall security who immediately pegged him as bothersome. However, when I gently told the security officer that the woman was telling personal detailed information to EVERYONE within the vicinity, several other patrons nodded to the officer. The woman, grabbed her children and left in a huff, screaming that my husband had harrassed her. Uh, OK.

I felt sorriest for her kids.

Common sense. What the heck happened to common sense?

Posted by: M in Columbia, MO | April 28, 2006 12:06 PM

Sorry -- I guess I went off on a tangent. I was responding to cell phone use in public places --- what will happen when we are trapped in a plane with this?

Posted by: M in Columbia MO | April 28, 2006 12:07 PM

Permitting the use of cell phones on planes will be mayhem. There will certainly be shouting, jostling and worse. I would think it would be easy to market "phone-free" flights, although they all should be.

Posted by: naive engineer | April 28, 2006 12:10 PM

The US Airways shuttle is the most convenient way to get from Washington D.C. to New York. Dedicated check-in and security lines, no crowd at Penn Station, and the flight is well under an hour. Stop whining and get some noise canceling headphones. "Quiet flights" - that's a brilliant idea, too. No logistical problems with that idea and clearly there would be HUGE demand! Why don't you take the quiet car on the Acela if it's such a big deal?

Posted by: Chad | April 28, 2006 12:14 PM

This IS important! If pilots don't want their passengers to bail on them with no-noise headphones, they need to make sure things get quiet and STAY quiet. Why would they want that? How about because of emergency, security and safety announcements that everyone needs to hear?

This occurred to me on my last flight. I was busy enjoying an episode of "Scrubs" on a DVD player with headphones when I felt the plane start descending. I couldn't hear any announcement, but I felt that soon there would be one to turn off all electronic devices and stow them. Not that I would hear it!

Posted by: Gene | April 28, 2006 12:16 PM

At least you didn't fly an American Airlines McDonnell Douglas Super MD-80. They don't have any in flight entertainment whatsoever, and oftentimes these airplanes are used for 4 hour trips!! Avoid the Super 80 at all costs!

Posted by: Stanley | April 28, 2006 12:17 PM

Some people (like my wife, FWIW) simply cannot understand that they are projecting their voice into the phone rather than speaking in a natural tone. If folks would just act like the person they're talking to is two inches away (since they are), my God, it would be heaven. Who knows, maybe someday. But till then, keep the damn phones off the flights.

Posted by: Gene | April 28, 2006 12:26 PM

Cheers to Columbia, MO for agreeing!

If airlines allow hell phones on flights, they should put them in a designated area, like the baggage compartment. Or make THEM wear soundproof bags over their heads. I grew up in a house without a telephone until I was about 15, then my mother wouldn't let us tie up the lines in case somebody needed to call us! I hate telephones; prefer not to use them unless in a dire emergency. So, unless the house is burning down or somebody just died, there's no excuse for spending your life on a telephone and making everybody else suffer through it.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | April 28, 2006 12:27 PM

I flew American recently and every time my seat was right over the wing. I couldn't hear anything but engine noise, which put me right to sleep.

Posted by: Ks | April 28, 2006 12:47 PM

I suggest a cell phone section
Five feet beyound the tail section

Posted by: brian | April 28, 2006 1:10 PM

Not only are cell phones on an airplane a bad idea because it will make the most annoying part of air travel, the other passengers, more annoying, it poses serious risks to the safety of the flight.

Posted by: M | April 28, 2006 1:11 PM

"Hi, there! This is your Captain speaking. We'll be on our way soon to your scheduled destination but first, please, these messages."

Posted by: Clay Bullröhr | April 28, 2006 1:18 PM

Previous post:
"At least you didn't fly an American Airlines McDonnell Douglas Super MD-80. They don't have any in flight entertainment whatsoever, and oftentimes these airplanes are used for 4 hour trips!!"

Sounds like heaven! Where do I sign up?
BTW, another post asked why people don't just ride the quiet car in the Acela. That's great if you're just going to NYC. Longer trips -- not so great.

Posted by: Silver Spring | April 28, 2006 1:24 PM

Why don't all yall just take Suburbans to NYC and back? There's more legroom and with these new engines, there gettin' almost 9 miles to the gallon!

Posted by: Dubya | April 28, 2006 1:34 PM

I flew US airways last night and after the where we fly commercials that went on for about 20 minutes, they turned off the sound. Then about 20 minutes later (right about the time i fell asleep) it was another loud commercial for the US Airways credit card. It was a 5 minutes commerical, then the flight attendants walked through the cabin asking everyone if they would like to apply. There was no opportunity to sleep on my 2 hours flight.

Posted by: frequent flier | April 28, 2006 4:00 PM

Caroline, I had the exact same irritating experience with US Airways flying from Las Vegas to Dulles last week. It was truly an awful, intrusive commercial as i was trying to sleep. I thought, "I am paying lots of money for this flight and this airlines is jamming its promotions down my throat....? Not again, US Airways.

Posted by: Bob | April 28, 2006 4:04 PM

Phones on a Plane!?

Sounds like a good movie idea, sign me up!

Posted by: S. L. Jackson | April 28, 2006 4:10 PM

Maybe if the airline wasn't run by those bozos out in Tempe, AZ, it wouldn't be this bad. The airline is really America West using US Airways planes. But I guess if they can't make money carrying passengers, you can't fault them for trying to make money elsewhere.

Posted by: Mike | April 28, 2006 4:18 PM

Next item: noise canceling baby seats. Who will invent these?!

Posted by: aj | April 28, 2006 5:11 PM

Why is talking on a cell phone any different than having a conversation with a person next to you? Both can be overheard. Both can be obnoxious. Both can be crude.

Your beefs are not with the cell phones but the people having a conversation. They can be equally annoying talking to a human next to them.

Get over yourselves.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 1, 2006 8:51 AM

Actually, at least one study has shown that overhearing a one-sided conversation is much more distracting than overhearing both sides:

Posted by: Jickup | May 1, 2006 12:12 PM

Home Depot sells big yellow noise-reducing ear muffs for about $15, the kind ground crews use; cuts noise by 15-20 dBA. They work much better than those little foam plugs, and they work equally well against lawmnower noise and airplane noise. Take them with you on every flight. They also let the aircrews see that you have to do something definite against the noise from takeoff to landing.

Posted by: Jay in Pennsylvania | May 1, 2006 2:40 PM

"Why is talking on a cell phone any different than having a conversation with a person next to you? Both can be overheard. Both can be obnoxious. Both can be crude.

Your beefs are not with the cell phones but the people having a conversation. They can be equally annoying talking to a human next to them.

Get over yourselves."

No, you are wrong. In-person conversational dynamics are very different from remote dynamics. One example is that when face to face, people use a variety of methods to communicate--facial cues, gestures, etc.--to "check in" and confirm they are being heard. Since these interactions are absent when talking on the phone, people unconsciously talk more loudly, in an attempt to confirm they are being heard/understood.

No one here needs to "get over themselves." That's kind of a silly attempt to shut down the conversation.

Posted by: NYC | May 1, 2006 6:10 PM

I believe there is a technology reason behind people speaking more loudly on a cellphone. On a landline phone, when you speak you also hear your speaking voice through the earpiece (due to the analog nature of the phone line) but on a digital cellphone you do not get that feedback (a timing thing with the broadcast of your signal, I understand; I'm not a techie), so you tend to speak more loudly because you are not getting the expected voice feedback your brain is used to. And for us long-time cellphone users, when we first started using them, the signal quality was pretty poor, so we had to yell a bit when the signal was poor. Bad habits die hard.
My pet peeve with cell phones is people who use the earpieces and stand right in front of you and have a loud conversation. I nearly came to blows with a rude young woman in the baggage area who decided to stand in front of me carrying on a loud conversaton (I luckily had one of the built in seats). I politely asked her to take it somewhere else & she was outraged at my suggestion.

Posted by: Lindy | May 1, 2006 7:12 PM

The only hope we have of avoiding cell phones on planes lies with the FCC (and giant telecoms), not the FAA. The interference with flight instruments is a red herring - the real issue is that at cruising altitude a cell call will attach to a bunch of cell towers, tying them up and making billing very difficult. So if Sprint and Verizon and Cingular have anything to say about it, no one will be talking on cells on planes any time soon.

Posted by: Cells on planes | May 1, 2006 7:23 PM

In general, the more bodys in a given space, the greater the need for both tolerance and defensive measures. Accept the crowded world syndrome and go buy some earphones. Suave Suave Suave

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Posted by: Allison Trump | May 23, 2006 4:40 PM

Southwest Airlines seems to promote noise with their overly casual, always joking crews. Now, I have to admit I like a great deal of friendliness, but too loose an atmosphere does promotes noise. For example, kids getting on, on one of my flights, shouted to the flight attendant, "Are we going to sing Bingo like on the other flight?" And on that same flight there was a movie on a DVD near me without earphones. I asked, "Does that come with earphones?" They happily answered, "no," having no clue why I had asked. Here's another thing: With no assigned seats, couples in line first will choose an aisle and window seat in the same row, then shout across the poor person (me) sitting in the middle. Insult was added to injury on one flight when a couple started passing aromatic Indian food to one another in front of me. On Southwest I hesitate to ask the flight attendants to assist with any problems because the whole atmosphere of noise and commotion is one of the airline's own intentional creation, also because I fear my "little" problems will be just one more joke.

Posted by: Lin Davis | July 3, 2006 9:14 AM

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