Thursday, December 19, 2013


200 people on an enclosed metal tube chit chatting away on cell phones is one form of purgatory.  (It might even be more effective than water boarding.)  It’s hard enough for me to endure a flight when two strangers get seated together and one tries to pick the other up…or one decides to share their life’s story with another.  Shrinking personal space between seats and the ever creative fee structure makes getting from point a to point b more and more of an endurance test.  With the acknowledgement that cell phones do not interfere with flight operations, various government agencies began hearings last week  are considering lifting the ban on phone calls.  Congress has even voted to ban the calls. 
Do we really need the U.S. Government to determine whether citizens can make a phone call?  Or where it's permissible to talk?  It’s bad enough that the NSA tracks the calls, who’s call who, for how long, etc.   I’m not advocating the use of phone calls in the air.  I’m just not sure that the FCC or the DOT or some other alphabet agency should be deciding.
Why not let the airlines decide?  Delta announced yesterday that even though it is illegal under federal law to have a cell phone conversation in flight, they would nonetheless ban them.  There is a cost to add equipment, weight to that machinery that will increase the cost of fuel per flight.  On the other hand many customers may like the ability to ring or text somebody and let them know that they’re early, late or on-time.  One airline might want to be the friendly-chatty airline, while another promotes their “silence is golden” ride. 

Amtrack (as well as many international trains) have “quiet” cars – areas designated as no-talk, no-cell phone areas.  Given the airlines penchant for fees, they could charge extra to be in a non-talk area…or even extra to be in a talk-designated area.
Capitalism works when the marketplace is allowed to make decisions.  Government should not be dictating when phone calls can be made.  Airlines could even work with wireless companies to have a surcharge on calls made in-flight if they wanted to...a perfectly justifiable use of ‘roaming’ fees.  And let's not forget that for many years phones were embedded in the back of seats for people to swipe a credit card and chat with whomever.  There wasn't an outcry then or a demand for Government to ban those calls.  Weren't those people obnoxious too?
The airline industry is over-regulated as it is.  If a passenger talks back to a flight attendant, that is a federal offense, punishable by huge fines and even jail time in a federal prison.  That seems excessive.  Why not let an airline decline service to a customer who has been problematic in the past?  That would solve the issue in a heartbeat, and keep the punishment proportionate to the crime.
Do we really want to jail citizens for making phone calls?  There is an over-criminalization of annoying behavior.  According to the Washington Post Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO issued a letter: “Passengers engrossed in calls would miss safety announcements and terrorists could use phones for coordination.”
If terrorism is going to increase because phone calls area allowed on planes, then the world is in even worse condition than the histrionics already claim.  It’s annoying, it’s probably even a bad idea – but it shouldn’t be illegal and it won’t put the nation’s security at risk.  The hyperbole and panic of lawmakers is more annoying than a boor sitting next to me chattering away for 6 hours.  Let's let the market decide as a small gesture that the U.S. economy is still capitalist driven and not centrally decided by the State.

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