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Unfriendly skies? U.S. regulator may lift ban on airline cell phone use

Airline cell phone blog

Sen. Hillary Clinton talks on her cell phone before takeoff on the 2008 campaign trail.  But will it fly? Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.


There’s an old, old song that goes “yakety yak, don’t talk back.”  And it seems due for a reversal, courtesy of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The regulatory body, in a bid to please cell phone addicts for whom air time is hot air time -- or the carriers that charge for their calls -- has touched off a fierce talk-back by proposing to quash “outdated and restrictive” rules that ban cell use while in flight.

The new guidelines, says the Washington Post’s Brian Fung, would “let airlines install special equipment to relay wireless signals from the plane to the ground, likely by way of a satellite connection.” A match for a system already in place in Europe.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who backs the measure, says it’s time for a “review of new mobile opportunities for consumers,” i.e. opportunities to infuriate people at a range of 10 metres with endless, obnoxious babble usually conducted at a decibel level that matches the cruising altitude of the average airplane.

A similar idea was dropped in 2007 after opposition from those – including flight attendants – who were outraged at the prospect of constantly ringing phones and intrusive talkers.

At a time when the pushback from electronic “living out loud” is growing, with increasing numbers of ear-weary commuters demanding quiet space on public transit, the proposal seems to be swimming against the tide.

In spite of the hazards of small, screaming children, one of the few remaining bearables of air travel is the relative lack of conversation, as passengers sink into a silent slump of movie-watching and tapping their (allowable) devices. And the inability of bosses, spouses, clients or friends to reach them in mid-flight is a tiny scrap of compensation for hours spent crammed into ever-smaller seats that they outnumber by a ratio of two to one.

That’s not just me talking.

Online reaction to the news was fast and furious.

“Oh good, they’ve figured out how to annoy everyone at once,” snarked one responder.

“Flying has descended to the fourth level of hell already,” groaned another, asking for a feedback link to the regulatory body, because. “it cannot be allowed to get even worse.”

“There has to be money involved,” huffed a disgruntled cynic

“I will immediately switch to whatever airline pledges NOT to allow this,” vowed another.

In fact, there was no positive reaction to the announcement, and the feedback could be summed up in one succinct comment, “OMG – worst idea ever.”

The five-person FCC plans to vote on the proposal after gathering comments from the public.

Dear FCC,
Don’t call us – we’ll call you. 

Olivia Ward has flown from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East, Europe, South Asia, Canada and the U.S.  She never leaves home without ear plugs.


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