Cell phones — yes or no? That is the question

by Karen Fawcett on October 30, 2008

When the pilot announces all electronics must be turned off before the plane departs, it’s amazing how many people continue phone conversations, sending text messages or emails as if the world were coming to an end. They must be very important.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit any use of mobile phones except when the aircraft is on the ground. It is believed that cell phone use may interfere with aircraft electronics. Airlines can be fined up to $25,000 if they permit mobile phone usage during a flight. Individuals are also liable.

Some travelers think they know better and contend that cell phones or PDA’s don’t interfere with take offs or landings or feel they’re simply beyond the law. What happened to the old days when we waved goodbye and left our troubles behind while we soared through the sky?

If Representative Peter DeFazio has his way, cell phone use on airplanes may not be allowed. Defazio has introduced legislation that would prohibit passengers from using their cell phones during flights. He calls it the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace (HANG UP) Act.

Travelers who consider flying a way to get away from some of the realities of life and would like to sleep, work or simply read a book are hoping the bill passes. There is obviously a battle going on. Even some scientific groups are getting in on the dispute claiming using cell phones on planes will hurt astronomy research efforts.

On the other side of the Atlantic, airlines and regulators are moving toward allowing cell phone use on airplanes. Are we Luddites on this side of the ocean?

I’ll confess, I’m totally technologically challenged and am firmly in the camp of maintaining cell phone free cabins. I also follow all directions, when I can. As soon as the no electronics announcement is made, I turn off my Blackberry and touch nothing until I see its  dark screen. But, on a recent flight, I looked in my purse and was horrified that the cell phone evidently had a mind of its own — the screen was shining like a beacon. If the plane had crashed, it definitely would have been my fault.

I often wonder, can cell phone use be an addition? During one trip to Beijing, I witnessed a man, tapping non-stop. When he deplaned and had a signal, I’m certain his email recipients probably wanted to commit suicide. There was no question he was productive during the 12+ hours duration of the flight.

During 2007, The Federal Aviation Administration recorded 133 cases in which passengers were charged for unruly behavior, such as interfering with the duties of crew members when requested not to use cell phones.

How would you vote on allowing or banning cell phone use on airplanes?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

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  • Frank

    Gawd help us if this ever becomes reality. I think the airlines would have to section off the aircraft and have……….Cellphone section and NON.

    And, your’s trully would NEVER work that section of the aircraft again.

  • Kelly

    No way! I don’t want to hear about people’s mysterious green ooze coming out of their wounds making a doctor’s appointment nor do I want to hear how some company needs to sell this and that to make x amount of dollars. Fact of the matter is, a plane is too close quarters for that type of communication. When the plane gets into an area of bad service all we are going to hear is “can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” louder and louder and louder. I don’t want to hear that nor should the other passengers.

  • Joseph

    Cell phones on planes would be awful. Bad enough I am obliged to hear inanities while walking down the street, riding the Métro or an American subway (“Wow! You’re on the Red Line? So am I! Awesome!”), even in restaurants. In addition to having to hear unintersting conversations, people tend to talk louder into cells than in conversation, the result being that the noise level goes up, even if the conversation is not quite understandable. Maybe the airlines should draw straws and the loser, newly renamed Air Mouth, would have cell-phone flights exclusively where the yakkers could drive one another out of their very small minds.

  • Scott

    I would be in favor of banning telephone conversations, but even I would have a hard time being annoyed by someone simply texting….unless of course the Hallelujah Chorus or something was the notification tone! PDAs in vibrate mode (for texting or email only, again) wouldn’t annoy me too much.

  • Anonymous

    Drawing lines of behavior? You mean not allowing people to do whatever they want, whenever they want? Oh MY GOD. What would happen ? Society wold surely collapse. Seriously, the day cell phones are allowed on flights is the day I stop flying. Seriously. I would sacrafice it if I had to get to an abroad location, but I would literally rather drive 20 hours domestically in silence than fly 2 hours listening to the entire plane babble like brooks. I don’t think cell phones will ever be allowed on commercial flight, but if they are..then the you know what will hit the fan.

  • http://www.geocities.com/sffilk Michael

    There was a Mythbusters episode done which showed that cell phones do not interfere with avionics, so that is no longer true. That being said, I prefer cell-phone-free environments.

  • Skip

    Michael made the valid point here: cell phones do not interfere with avionics and they never have. To assert otherwise is either ignorant or deceitful (but whoever heard of an airline being ignorant or deceitful?).

    Pete DeFazio is from my home state, Oregon, and he’s got his own way of looking at things. This is a solution in search of a problem. People have been able to make phone calls using the inflight phone system and I don’t recall anyone complaining about abuse of that system.

    I follow the no-cell rule because if I don’t, the FAs will have me arrested for not following their arbitrary rules–NOT because using my phone endangers the flight. Having a stupid, illogical, and unnecessary rule that’s based on ratty data interferes with the credibility of all the other rules.

  • Frank

    On October 30th, 2008 at 2:53 pm Skip said Michael made the valid point here: cell phones do not interfere with avionics and they never have. To assert otherwise is either ignorant or deceitful (but whoever heard of an airline being ignorant or deceitful?).
    =======================================================

    I disagree with this statement. I have had PILOTS phone me in the cabin and request that I check the cabin for electronic devices that may be on. This was on a 727-200. An older aircraft.

    That being said, cellphones have interfered with medical equipment in hospitals. Cellphones can emit EMI. Electro-magnetic-Interference.

    Website explains it: http://www.howstuffworks.com/question230.htm/printable

  • Dick

    First, Michael’s point isn’t in the least valid. While I firmly believe that cell phone usage does not interfere with aircraft avionics, Mythbusters is hardly a reliable source of information. It is highly entertaining pop science conducted by a couple of career stuntmen, it is not rigorous scientific research. And as for Skip’s assertion that the in-flight phone system hasn’t led to abuse complaints is equally invalid. There is a big difference between a phone system that costs an arm and a leg to use and everyone’s cell phone plan with almost unlimited number minutes for a set monthly price.

    Being a frequent flier I find the peace of not having to listen to multiple phone conversations refreshing. Besides, in all the many flights I have been on in the last few years I am certain I haven’t been sharing the cabin with anyone who is that important that they need to be on the phone while we are in the air. Most people have atrocious cell phone etiquette. Just because we have the ability to be instantly in touch with anyone else in the world doesn’t mean we have to, or should, be.

  • Carlo

    I have to disagree with the majority here. Unless there’s a genuine safety issue, I think the government has no business regulating when people can and cannot use their cell phones. Because it annoys other people is not a good enough reason to legislate it.

  • Dick

    But the airlines certainly have the right to limit cell phone use, just like many restaurants are beginning to limit use.

  • Keith Henrickson

    If using a cell phone may cause a plane to crash (the reason they say ban the things), and a person trying to crash a plane is committing a VERY serious offense, why don’t we arrest people who use their Blackberries in mid-flight and send them to Gitmo.

    That should end the in-flight ringing and buzzing.

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