Even if phone calls are possible on airplanes, it’s still rude

Who remembers these? Photo: Mike Kuniavsky

According to the Washington Post, European regulators and airlines are now investigating ways to enable 5G mobile phone calls on airplanes.

Right now, you can’t do this because mobile phones on planes need to be in “airplane mode” — that is, not connected to mobile antennas. The ostensible reason is that mobile phone frequencies interfere with airline navigation equipment. Which, if you read the comments from the former FCC chair in the article, is probably not much of a real concern. C’mon, you always suspected that.

But I don’t care about navigational interference. There should be no phone calls on airplanes because phone calls on airplanes are a beastly idea.

Stay out of my audio space

On an airplane, the next passenger is eight inches beside you. The ones in front and behind are a couple feet away.

Maintaining your sanity when packed in so tight is hard enough.

So don’t invade my space.

Don’t invade it with the odors from your smelly food.

Don’t invade it with your elbows on my middle seat armrest. Or your dog at my feet.

Don’t recline into my headroom.

And don’t talk on your phone. While you’re at it, don’t talk on your Zoom call either.

Your phone call, like your smelly food and your elbows, are an invasion of my space.

Text all you want. Watch and listen to a movie, or music, on headphones. Read a book. Work on your computer. Those are all activities you can do without my needing to hear or smell them.

As long as planes are tiny shared spaces, there should be no phone calls. Any airline that enables such calls goes right on my shit list.

In uncivilized spaces, it’s the tiny wisps of peace and dignity we retain that matter. Freedom from calls in one of them.

Disagree with me? Drive yourself instead. Just so long as I don’t need to listen to you.

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  1. Agree on all of this (except the dog part; I’d love to have a well-behaved dog companion for a flight). My wife and I just returned from several weeks in Italy, and we noticed that people there often and unapologetically talk on the phone (on speakerphone!) on trains, on the street, in parks, and in cafes. It’s loud, intrusive, rude, selfish, and annoying (from otherwise lovely people in a wonderful culture). Phone calls on a plane are unnecessary, a terrible idea, and will have only negative repercussions.

    1. I once paid extra for a bulkhead seat, only to find the guy next to me brought his golden retriever which sat where my feet were supposed to go.

      Your dog is fine. But not in my space.

  2. From your friendly neighborhood airline and travel analyst: It is highly doubtful that phone calls are coming to US airlines.

    The 5G bandwidth/signals that will be used in Europe are different from what we use in the US. And, apparently, there is enough of a risk to aircraft navigation with _our_ 5G that makes the possibility 5G phones being used for calls at 35,000 feet highly impractical (remember the drama earlier this year when 5G was being introduced near airports?). Based on this, the FAA has apparently said “not gonna happen” to in-flight phone calls on US airlines and aboard foreign airlines’ aircraft operating in US-controlled air space.

    Even if it were technologically possible to use 5G phones for calls on US airlines, I doubt it would be allowed. To start, US passengers don’t want this. We asked about this back at Forrester, when in-flight connectivity was just emerging. A solid no then. I asked about this again, in research my company conducted in 2017. Again, a solid no. I haven’t thought to ask about in-flight phone calls since 2017, but I guess it’s time to dust off those questions.

    The unions that represent most airlines’ flight attendants have been against in-flight phone calls, due to concerns it may spark air rage. As you noted, Josh, phone calls on a plane are a form of personal space invasion. Think back to the problems, including physical violence, that occurred during the past couple of years when airline passengers were required to wear face masks on planes. It’s tough enough keeping everyone calm now, we don’t need the added aggravation of phone calls rekindling arguments and violence between passengers once again. I suspect these unions are already lobbying the FAA, lawmakers, and other stakeholders to keep phone calls out of airline cabins.

  3. But folks do phone calls nearly everywhere else. All that shit has got to stop, along with the other annoy stuff Josh pointed out.

    I did fly yesterday on a flight delayed by the previous flight and I heard them (the two crews of pilots) talking about something in the cargo bay transmitting and messing with navigation.

    Phones on transmit of course can do things more robust than calls. That would be worth requiring planes be hot spots.

    Phones were useful on one day. The exception that proves the rule?

  4. We ought not allow the FAA to lie about the reason. I’m not sure there is a good reason to allow that.

  5. I believe there are safety issues just insofar as people need to pay attention to flight attendants in emergency situations. People are so used to answering phones during dinner and continuing conversations even when it’s impolite (with the ubiquitous raised index finger, as if to say “Hold on just a minute; this person who is not in the room is clearly more important than the person in front of me), that I doubt they would put the phone down when the attendant makes an announcement.