Etiquetteer was thrilled with horror earlier this week to read that the Federal Aviation Administration was actually considering allowing the use of cellphones on airplanes after reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet. As if Airborne Perfect Propriety were not under threat enough already, now we may have to contend with the loud, indiscreet yakking of selfish, indifferent fellow passengers whose limited imaginations keep them from thinking of other ways to respond to boredom than calling absent friends. "It's the social stigma of people having loud public conversations in a public space," said Steve Nolan, a Gogo spokesman, quoted in the Wall Street Journal article linked above. Except that's not quite what the FAA has in mind, so it's a good thing Etiquetteer didn't tear off in high dudgeon* to protest. At least not yet. According to its press release, "The FAA did not consider changing the regulations regarding the use of cell phones for voice communications during flight because the issue is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission. The ARC did recommend that the FAA consult with the FCC to review its current rules. Cell phones differ from most personal electronic devices in that they are designed to send out signals strong enough to be received at great distances."
The FCC, at least the way Etiquetteer interprets their blog entry, sounds just a wee bit like they're punting the issue to the airlines. "In this case we have an outdated rule on our books that has been overtaken by advances in technology. If the technological justification for our existing prohibition is no longer valid, then it is our responsibility to examine ways to update and modernize the rules through an open and transparent rulemaking process. But it is the responsibility of the airlines, in response to their customers, to determine how to apply that rule change to their in-flight services."
That may be, but this "outdated" rule has helped keep the peace on many a flight. Others have already commented that 21st-century air travel is 20th-century bus travel. From outrageously large carry-on bags (both quantity and size) to narrower seats to the invasion of privacy for security, from overbooked flights to fellow passengers who believe the world is their bedroom, Perfect Propriety has never been more at risk. If airlines do not have the opportunity to offer cellphone service to their passengers, then they won't be tempted to do so.
Of course there are legitimate reasons for people to want cellphone access while flying, the most obvious being the need to communicate with others about last-minute changes to one's itinerary. But these situations have been solved already for generations without that opportunity to communicate, and Etiquetteer fears that such calls would only end up a very small percentage of those actually made.
This issue bears watching, and Etiquetteer encourages you to contact the airlines you patronize most frequently to urge them not to allow voice calls in flight.
* Etiquetteer suspects that somewhere in the north of England there is a village called High Dudgeon.