Calls on a Plane

The image shows a small propeller airplane parked on an airport tarmac. The airplane has two propellers, one on each wing, and is connected to a ground power unit via a cable. There is a set of mobile stairs positioned at the side of the airplane for boarding or deboarding passengers. The sky above is cloudy, and the tarmac has green and white markings.
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The Department of Transportation is considering regulations which would allow travelers to place voice calls in-flight. They solicited travelers and the airline industry to weigh in on the proposed measures.

Although the technology exists now to place calls using WiFi applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook’s Messenger, and Skype, the DOT and airlines do not permit it. Not surprisingly, most travelers who commented to the DOT almost universally made the case for the anger emoji (or worse).

The Global Business Travel Association, a lobby group which represents corporate travel managers, strongly opposed the proposed rule changes. Their executive director said he thought the words of the legendary folk singer and social activist Pete Seeger should guide the decision against allowing this. “In short, there is a time to speak out and a time to keep silent.”

Generally speaking, the airline industry opposes regulation. However, most comments said they would continue to maintain their own bans, despite DOT permission because their customers were adamantly against such a move. “We have heard clearly that they do not want such calls to be part of their onboard experience at this time,” United Airlines wrote.

Commercial aircraft provide a very confined space. Many trains in the US have ‘quiet cars’. However, creating those same zones is difficult on an airplane. Further, the ambient noise level on flights is already very high. Someone speaking loudly enough to be heard over the din would almost require yelling.

And if the noise level wasn’t annoying enough, imagine the conversations. Listening and feigning interest to a chatty person seated next to me on a long flight is challenging enough. Listening to someone discussing their kids’ soccer schedules and last night’s Bachelor episode would be torture.

It’s true in the movie theater and on commercial aircraft in the United States. Silence is golden.

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