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Cellphones and Flying: Many Thumbs Down

John Deiner

Many of us hate the idea of cellphones being allowed in-flight. We all knew this was the case, didn't we?

Well, the good folks at the International Airline Passenger Association (IAPA) conducted a survery to find out just how much we hate the idea, and the results are interesting: We don't just sort of hate the idea, we really, really, really hate the idea.

According to the organization, "The overwhelming conclusion is that allowing passengers to use mobile phones onboard will be a source of great irritation. Almost 9 out of 10 respondents (88%) said they would consider this to be annoying. This was most pronounced in the UK, with 69.8% of British travelers saying they would be annoyed by in-flight mobile phone use. By contrast, the figure in the U.S. was 49%. Overall only 1 in 20 people said that they would not be aggravated by the use of phones in the air."

Furthermore, the study says: "Although 28% felt very strongly about this issue and advocated a full ban on mobile communications, 57% of the people who answered the IAPA survey felt that communications via text or email would be preferable to a complete ban. Only 9% of respondents felt that all usage should be allowed, even within clearly defined time periods."

More than 3,000 frequent fliers responded to the survey.

I'm wondering, though: If nearly half the U.S. respondents would find it annoying, that means half would be okay with it (okay, you don't have to be a math whiz to figure that out). I get annoyed listening to people on cellphones in the grocery store -- just pay and get out, will ya? Listening to chattering in the seats all around me would drive me bonkers. A part of me just wonders who the heck everyone is talking to, and I can see (or hear) bored teenagers on a long flight yappin' crosscountry to pass the time.

The one thing I'm not sure about is texting. Would that be annoying on a flight? And are you pro or con cellphones on flights?


By John Deiner |  November 16, 2007; 10:06 AM ET  | Category:  John Deiner , Travel Logistics
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"I get annoyed listening to people on cellphones in the grocery store -- just pay and get out, will ya? Listening to chattering in the seats all around me would drive me bonkers. A part of me just wonders who the heck everyone is talking to, and I can see (or hear) bored teenagers on a long flight yappin' crosscountry to pass the time."

Yes, I agree -- NO cell phone use in flight. What could possibly be that important that one needs to talk on a flight? That's just cruel to those that want some "quiet", restful time. My iPod only goes so loud.

Text all you want, that's relatively quiet.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | November 16, 2007 11:02 AM

I'd be ok with texting in principle, but there's the slippery slope to consider.

Posted by: aleks | November 16, 2007 12:26 PM

The problem is a lack of common courtesy, which I have seen in multiple locations. It is rude to hold a phone conversation in public--period. Nobody wants to hear what you have to say. At least at a grocery store you can somewhat get away. On a plane, there's NOWHERE you can go, you are stuck there for so many hours. If someone can text silently, where their phone isn't beeping or making other noises when texts are sent and received, I don't see the problem. This is a fair compromise. People simply need to show courtesy and good manners when they are in public.

Posted by: Southern Gal | November 16, 2007 1:14 PM

Text away, as far as I'm concerned - it'll keep you quiet! But I can just imagine that annoying person in front of me reclining his/her seat and blabbing away for 3 hours. Heaven help me, I might just wish for a crash to put me out of my misery. On the other hand, I wanted to sedate the, like, yapping, like young women who, like, discussed how, like, ANNOYING some people can be? Like, they can be so rude? Like, when they yammer, like, during an entire, you know, redeye?

So maybe a one-sides conversation would be preferable after all....

Posted by: Karen | November 16, 2007 1:35 PM

I think Southern Gal hit the nail on the head here.

All too often we as a society look to the law and the government to solve societal problems that can, and should, be handled by establishing and maintaining social norms. For example, it should be taught to people that while something may not be illegal, certain things can still be rude, impolite, or discourteous, and for that reason, it should not be done.

Such is the case with much behavior today, including talking on cellphones in public or even on planes. It should be illegal, per se, but it should only be done if necessary or in a way that doesn't inconvenience others. Texting and email as alternatives to talking while in a confined space certainly qualify as courteous behavior.

Posted by: M Street | November 16, 2007 3:09 PM

If phone conversations are allowed on planes in flights then someone needs to start selling portable phone jammers - they will make a killing.

Posted by: not on planes | November 16, 2007 9:00 PM

No cell phone use in theater movie, opera, plays etc, concerts, flights and in your car while driving. Violators should face vigilante justice and be executed with a slug behind the left or right ear the cell phone users choice. After the first 10,000 executions folks will get the message.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 19, 2007 6:38 AM

In theory I'm against it. But it makes me ponder a different side. Is a cell phone conversation more annoying than a live one between two passengers? Is it that people speak louder on the phone than in person? I've spent the greater part of a very long flight in quiet conversation with a complete stranger. Were other passengers calling for blood? In a restaurant I always considered it rude to use a cell phone because it was likely you were sharing a meal with someone else, and, thus, awkwardly ignoring them. But that's not an issue on public transportation. So, even though I think I'd be annoyed by the gum-chomping teen on the phone, too, I wonder if it would be just as bad if it was with her BFF sitting right next to her.

Posted by: non frequent flyer | November 19, 2007 9:16 AM

Good stuff here. But "non frequent flyer" has a good point: I think people DO speak louder when they're on a cellphone. And Southern Gal is right on target: Just be polite and respect the folks around you, and flying -- and the world in general -- would be all the better for it.

Posted by: John Deiner | November 19, 2007 9:30 AM

I read somewhere that people actually do talk more loudly on cell phones because the phone doesn't let you hear your own voice the same way an ordinary phone does.

I am completely opposed to allowing cell phones on planes. (Texting would be OK as long as it didn't involve lots of beeps and tones.) Besides the louder talking, it would increase the amount of talking. Many people don't talk on flights because they're traveling alone, or with family members that they're around all the time and with whom they've shared the trip, so they don't have to recap it. But imagine if _every_ passenger, solo or not, could call up a friend to catch up on things, or talk about what happened on the trip, etc. Ugh.

Posted by: jane | November 19, 2007 11:12 AM

Wait, I don't understand this: "Almost 9 out of 10 respondents (88%) said they would consider this to be annoying. This was most pronounced in the UK, with 69.8% of British travelers saying they would be annoyed by in-flight mobile phone use." If annoyance is 88% overall, how can it be only 70% in the country where it's "most pronounced"?

Posted by: Anonymous | November 19, 2007 11:20 AM

Stare intently at the person using the phone. When they ask why you are staring, shrug your shoulders and say, "your conversation is interesting - since you're having it in a public place I figured you didn't mind". Then continue staring.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 19, 2007 3:27 PM

A response to M Street: The hole in your logic is that society HAS established said social norms; manners and common courtesy ARE taught. But there's an ever-growing army of people who use their knowledge of what is expected among polite society just to know how much rudeness they can get with. Their mantra is, "Hey, it's not illegal. Now stay out of my business." They're loud, boorish and aggressive and they're PROUD of their behavior. If you expect them to be considerate, you'll have a very long wait.
The second hole in your logic is that you state society should maintain social norms - which would be policing it's people. Which, in turn, is the establishment of laws.

Posted by: Cynthia | November 21, 2007 1:36 PM

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