Cell Phones on Airplanes? There Will Be Blood

It is the busiest travel day of the year today. I for one am giving thanks that we are staying local with the sibs instead of flying to Chicago as we usually do. As problematic as the weather is this year, I am much more concerned about the latest possible Federal Communications Commission rule-change allowing unrestricted mobile phones on planes.

There will be blood.

For so many reasons obvious to anyone who flies regularly or is not a government bureaucrat, this is a terrible idea. Expect regular brawls to break out at 30,000 feet. Six sky marshals per plane at a minimum will be costly; so too will the new standard issue tranquilizer dart guns for the flight crews.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which would have to approve the antennas involved and also put up with the inevitable fallout onboard, might look at the experiences other forms of transportation -- especially those which require people to be confined in long metal tubes for extended periods of time -- have had. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the experiences of mass transit.

Take railroads, for example. In the New York metro area, there are four major rail lines – Amtrak, Long Island Railroad, Metro-North, and New Jersey Transit. These commuter railroads are among the busiest in the nation. As the links above show, all of them have implemented quiet cars. This was necessary to quell the disputes and arguments and even fistfights that have broken out on commuter lines because of rude cell phone usage. Note that these trips are usually under an hour.

My own experiences on the rails have led to a few arguments and a near altercation. (Thankfully, a conductor intervened before I violated the conditions of my parole). I did find that shaming worked well -- I used to post photos of really rude people on the trains at Lirrcommuterfromhell.com, along with a brief description of their offenses. Changing my commuting routine brought some relief as well: I always travel with a fully charged iPod, a stack of reading material and a full download of podcasts to go with my noise-reducing headphones.

But there are some folks that even "Houses of the Holy" can't drown out, and besides, do I really want to crank up "D'yer Mak'er" at 6:48 a.m.?

For those people who are nonconfrontational or just less-inclined toward violence, there exists the option of moving to another seat or even another car. These options do not exist on a plane.

My own experiences with accidentally leaving an iPhone turned on in an overhead compartment of a plane -- which managed to take off, fly across country, and then land safely -- belied the usual safety fear-mongering. No phones aboard flights is about social control, keeping the bored, ignorant masses of chatterboxes from causing an in-flight riot.

I want to propose a brief experiment for any readers who might find themselves flying this week. Once you are airborne, have a look around you at your fellow passengers. Over the white noise of the engine and the general quiet of the cabin, imagine a cell phone attached to everyone’s head. Picture spending three to six hours of flight time with that incessant jabbering as your audio soundtrack.

Then call the FAA at 866-TELL-FAA (really) and let them known what you think of this awful idea. You can also inform them online at the FAA site.

You can contact the FCC commissioners via E-mail to tell them what a terrible idea this is:

Chairman Tom Wheeler: Tom.Wheeler@fcc.gov

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn: Mignon.Clyburn@fcc.gov

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel: Jessica.Rosenworcel@fcc.gov

Commissioner Ajit Pai: Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly: Michael.ORielly@fcc.gov

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