Should we allow phone calls on airplanes?

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Some talk has come up lately about the United States allowing voice calls – or more accurately VOIP calls while on airplanes. This seems to be a natural extension to adding WiFi on flights. If you can connect to the internet, why not use that connection to stay in touch. Many devices are capable of WiFi calling, so this is the next step, right? But is this necessarily the best move for the travel industry? That’s what we wanted to talk about – and debate about – today.

Keep in touch

Right off the bat, there is something pretty cool about this. Staying entertained on an airplane has always been a challenge, especially in today’s connected society. Making final phone calls from the tarmac is almost a rite of passage to frequent flyers. Cramming in those last minute phone calls and finishing up important business things before the flight attendant comes on – let’s just stay the struggle is real.

So why not allow those communications to flow freely while you’re otherwise confined in a flying tube at 550 mph. Flying across the country – let alone around the world – can be maddening, having to be out of touch with loved ones and colleagues. The tech is there, so why not use it? If we can be that much more productive while travelling, then let’s go ahead and jump on the phone for a few hours.

Not like it’s a quiet car

It’s not like people don’t talk on airplanes. Last year for CES, I was seated next to a delightful woman, travelling with her family for her daughter’s 21st birthday. We talked for probably an hour of the three hour flight, and it was really nice. If talking is going to happen anyway, what difference does it make whether it’s directed into a phone, or to the seat next to you?

Air travel can be stressful enough as it is. Allowing passengers to stay in touch can be just the stress reliever a flyer needs to stay calm.

And yet…

On the other hand, flying is stressful enough, without having to listen to Mr. Professional Business buy low and sell high all the way from Chicago to Las Vegas. Non-stop chit chat can be maddening, especially when it’s one-sided. There’s something natural about the drone of a conversation among friends. But hearing only one side of a conversation can be maddening with stops and starts, and interruptions, and raised voiices. I’m having a panic attack just writing about it.

True story – I ride the train for about two hours every day during rush hour. These trains are packed. And Metra, my local train provider, supplies two cars on every rush hour train designated as quiet cars. If you are on these cars, shut up. If you talk to a neighbor or on the phone, passengers will shut that down pronto. I’m not even kidding about how serious a violation this is among the Metra faithful. At first, you’ll get a polite, “Excuse me, you’re on the quiet car.” Then you’ll get the evil eye. Then, it can come to blows. I’m not even kidding about this (FYI: NSFW).

Kick back and relax

The reason is because quiet == relaxing. Quiet is nice. We talked about how stress inducing flying can be. Imaging flying next to Fran Drescher on the phone with – well really anyone because that would be awful. This is the part where I should tell you that personally, I don’t mind riding the train outside of quiet cars. I have two kids – they haven’t invented a noise that can distract me from work. Well, there was that one time when the teenage had the Hunger Games whistle as a text tone. That almost made me dive out of the car. But for the most part, I’m cool.

But I’m not everyone. Far from it. I am a model of patience and tolerance. But in general, people will hate you if you insist on chatting while riding an airplane. Or at least, I think they will – what about you? Do you think we should allow our fingers to do the walking while cruising at 35,000 feet? Or should we all just shut up and sit in purgatory with our little snack packs of peanuts. There are good arguments for both sides, which is what a good debate is all about. So sound off down below, and let’s see if we can figure this out.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs. Read more about Adam Doud!