A modest proposal: On allowing mobile phones on airplanes


Ever since the FAA decided to reconsider its ban on the use of cellular phones on airplanes during flight, there has been quite a reaction over whether this is a good thing.

To resolve this issue, I present this modest proposal.

Remember back in the days when smoking was permitted on airplanes? When you bought a ticket, you were asked whether you wanted to be in the smoking or non-smoking section. We can do the same thing with mobile phones. You can ask to be seated in the "yapping" or "non-yapping" section. If you're in the yapping section, then yap all you want. Call your grandmother and talk with her the entire flight about her colonoscopy, see if I care. On the other hand, in the non-yapping section, the phone stays off.

This principle of yap-or-no-yap can be extended to other in-flight disturbances. The no-yapping section would be renamed the "quiet section", where electronic devices must be muted (or used with headphones) and conversations must take place at low volume.

(Hey, it worked for Amtrak, it can work on airplanes.)

Side note: I wonder if the temporary ban on carry-on luggage in the UK improved airplane boarding times. Perhaps we could ban carry-on luggage across the board, not as a security measure, but as an efficiency. I don't know about you, but I'm really anonyed by those people whose "one carry-on bag and one personal item" consist of a carry-on bag the size of a small refrigerator and a personal item the size of a microwave oven. They clog up the aisle for ages trying to heave both of their bags into the overhead bin (even though the personal item is supposed to go under the seat in front of you). Okay, enough ranting.

Next time (if there is a next time), I'll solve the problem of steroids in baseball.

Comments (48)
  1. Anonymous says:

    The ban on carry-on luggage in the UK caused massive delays across the board. Checked-in luggage is subject to many more security checks than the simple xray that carry-on luggage gets, so flights were greatly delayed as a result.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You don’t have to have your luggage lost too many times to be one of those people who carry everything on board. Or, your delayed, run for your connection, and barely make it. Your bag however gets a vacation in Minneapolis while you attend business meetings in jeans and sneakers.

    If your a reasonable human being, though, you’ll only put your rollaway in the overhead and put a small laptop bag under the seat.

  3. Anonymous says:

    RE: Boarding times – quite the opposite actually. In fact, most of the low-cost airlines were trying to get rid of checked in luggage completely by offering incentives – such as charging for checked-in luggage and Internet/FastPass check-ins for people with hand baggage only. These don’t work so well when people still have to queue to check in their luggage.

    Ryanair then doesn’t provide allocated seating, to allow them 25 minute turn around times. Everyone is so concerned with getting the seat that they want that there is a stampede to get on the plane and seated. This coupled with the lower time taken by baggage handlers led to extremely efficient turn arounds for their aircraft.

  4. Anonymous says:

    "One item of cabin luggage" means just that. Not the entire contents of Harrods!

  5. Anonymous says:

    The ban on cell phones had nothing to do with annoying cell users.  It was predicated on the untested claim that cell phones and other electronic devices interfered with the avionics.  I am willing to believe that cell phones can and do interfere with the operation of the aircraft since each cell phone is a miniature microwave transmitter.  The ban on other electronics during landing and take-off seems ridiculous to me though.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The ban on carry-on luggage in the UK caused massive delays across the board.[…]

    Additionally the bagage handling system could not handle the massive increase in volumne or number of sub/out-sized items.

    See (amongst other stories): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4794477.stm

    Banning carry on has all sorts of other effects:

    – No (or very expensive) insurance coverage (airline liability has very low limits, travel/home insurance says keep the items with you)

    – Fragile/sensitive items (musical instruments, electronic items) are often damaged by the rougher handling (I’ve seen baggage been droped from the hold to the concret when a plain arrived)

  7. Anonymous says:

    The yapping-on-cellphones section should be combined with the screaming-infant section.

  8. Anonymous says:

    So you suggest forbidding parents with infants to use planes? Or you just discovered a miracle way to make an infant be quiet for 7 hours while seated in a small seat, not allowed to move/play etc and subjected to a strange and claustrophobic environment.

    [If your infant is going to yap on a cell phone, then he/she goes into the yapping section. -Raymond]
  9. Anonymous says:

    1) Airplanes can’t have the same level of separation that trains do.  I’m pretty sure I could still hear Fur Elise chiming away from 20 rows back.

    2) If tickets are full in the non-yapping section, and I get stuck in the yapping section it would be a torture worse then hell.

    People need to just relax and enjoy the fact that no one can contact them for a few hours.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Fortunately for you, but unfortunate for some, i doubt we’ll ever see cell phones on planes. I’m going to give congress their next piece of poorly thought out logic.

    Cell phones can be used as detonators for bombs in the carry on. If service is available, then a bomb could be blown up without a terrorist even being on a plane!

    There, that should solve the no cell phones on planes problem. Next week, I’ll outline a plan to prevent people from flying on planes all together. Stay tuned…

  11. Anonymous says:

    If it has wheels or a collapsible handle it is not carry on. You have to actually be able to carry the bag onto the plane, otherwise is must be checked, simple as that.

    Myself, I fly with just a backpack (goes under the seat) and a laptop case. I’ve been thanked by stewardess for that. I’ve also been allowed not to check my carryon on a flight where all the bins were full because mine was reasonable.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I love the no carry-on proposal, or I would love to see the airlines enforce the carry-on rules.  When you bring the small refrigerator and microwave you are, effectively, stealing bin space from someone else.  I find the "stowing" portion of boarding to be far more stressful than anything else.  

  13. Anonymous says:

    I think they should ban checked luggage, and open up the cargo hold for people to dump their stuff in.

    I never check luggage (if I can help it), even if there isn’t room I pretend that I didn’t know my suitcase wouldn’t fit in the overhead bin, so that it gets red-tagged at the gate.  Then I get my bag right away instead of waiting 45-60 minutes at baggage claim.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I do lot of short-haul flights. Flights in the region of 40-80 minutes. If I check in lugguge,  I have to turn up at the airport about 1.5 hours before departure, queue to check-in, and wait upwards of 20-30 minutes after landing to wait for my luggage to appear on the carousel.

    On the other hand with web check-in, I turn up 30 mins before departure, and don’t have to wait after I get off the plane – head straight for the exit.

    So I easily save myself more time than the actual flight itself by using carry on luggage. Far more efficient.

    (Boarding time is only a very small part of the total journey time and besides, boarding time is factored by the airline, rarely is a flight delayed because of longer boarding times.)

  15. Anonymous says:

    I flew to Glasgow yesterday and back today — significantly quicker to enter and exit the plane compared to the usual hours behind the annoying people with 18 weeks worth of clothes as carry ons — all this eficiency was lost when I had to wait 25 minutes for my bag.

  16. Anonymous says:

    @A Parent:

    You sound a little defensive there. While forbidding parents with infants from using a plane would be a dream to most travelers (and quite an incentive for some people to pay a little extra for an airline), I dont think it was a ban so much as a separate cabin compartment section that parents and infants can be in. With soundproofing, please.

  17. Anonymous says:

    It seems that kbiel’s suspicions are not unfounded.   A recent Carnegie Mellon study found that cell phones and other electronic devices actually can interfere with flight operations, moreso than was previously believed.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06060/662669.stm

  18. Anonymous says:

    You can’t ban checked luggage, there’s not enough room in the cabin.  A typical overhead compartment covers roughly 2.5 rows of seats and has room for perhaps 4 people worth of space (less if they bring 6-foot duffle), however there’s ~7 people who would need to use that space.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Well, before, they said "you can’t use your cell phone due to security reasons" (avionics interferences). Now they say "you can use your cell phone". Either they don’t care about our security now or they lied to us before.. or cell phones are completly different now ;)

    BTW it was same with smoking. Last time I flew (oct 2001) they said "don’t smoke for your own safety" so I said to myself "was it safe to smoke 10 years ago or you didn’t care about my safety back then"

    You bet, cell phone interfere avionics. If you doubt it, put your cell phone near your TV set and dial your number – you’ll hear it on TV even before the phone start ringing. Question is how these interferences affects the avionics. Should a cellphone be proved to be a serious threat, they would have been banned from the airplane for a long time.

  20. Anonymous says:

    They say "don’t smoke for your own safety" because they need to come up with a reason people will accept without arguing. If they said "don’t smoke because it’s annoying to other people" it wouldn’t work.

  21. Anonymous says:

    The reason that Cell phones are banned on planes has nothing to do with annoying other passengers, nor with the idea that they will interfere with flight avionics (though there is reason for concern in this area). In fact the primary reason they were banned from aircraft use is due to the effect that a cell phone located high above the base station infrastructure has on cell handoff. In normal usage, a cell phone sees roughly three base stations, and will chose the connection based on signal strength. If the cell phone moves, the call is handed off from one base station to another adjacent cell (and frequently, within the context of a single base station controller). This hand off only occurs as the phone moves closer to a new base station where it has better reception. Handoffs are therefore an infrequent occurence – which is good, as they take up a lot of computational and frequency resources when they occur.

    However, when a phone is airborne, it sees all of the base stations at roughly equal distances, and thus usually triggers extremely frequent handoffs over a wide geographic area, with a corresponding large load on the base stations, station controllers, network, and available radio bandwith. A single phone can use a large portion of the resources in an area, and thus cell phone usage from aircraft was banned.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I am a pilot and I can hear it in my headset when a nearby phone is about to ring.  I would imagine phones interfere with the radio navigation equipment in the same way.  Most planes use GPS for primary en-route navigation nowadays, but all have VOR/NDB (radio) as a back-up.

    One reason they make you shut down all electronic devices during landing is because the landing system uses radio waves to guide the airplane in, while it’s unlikely a PDA is going to mess that up, there’s not much point in taking the chance.

    The other (more important) reason is most crashes happen during take-off and landing (something like 80% of them).  It’s hard to assume the ‘crash position’ with a laptop on your thighs.  It’s the same reason they make you stow your tray table and secure your seatbelt during take-off and landing.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I would hazard a guess that the frequent base station handoff could create a dangerous amount of radio traffic.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Couldn’t agree more. The "expert travellers" who sneer at the rest of us while squeezing their entire worldly goods into hand baggage are a pain in the backside. If you have a genuine reason to take something by hand there’s no room left for it, and the cabin staff are so jaded by it all that they aren’t inclined to help. I pretty much stopped travelling with musical instruments for this reason.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know how carry-on luggage works in the US, but certainly in Holland there are size restrictions. Airlines typically have some sort of metal frame box standing by the check-in desks. If your bag doesn’t fit in, you have to check it in. A "refrigerator" wouldn’t work.

    @Tyler Reddun: Stewardesses might not be happy with that rule. They tend to carry their stuff around in a small suitcase with wheels and a collapsible handle just small enough to qualify as carry-on luggage.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Brian>> The other (more important) reason is most crashes happen during take-off and landing (something like 80% of them).  It’s hard to assume the ‘crash position’ with a laptop on your thighs.  It’s the same reason they make you stow your tray table and secure your seatbelt during take-off and landing.

    Which is another form of the brain dead, zero tolerance type crap.  OK, I agree that a cell phone can and do interfere with avionics (though less now days since GSM and CDMA2000 use less power).  Ban them through the whole flight.  I agree that a laptop or other bulky electronic device is probably not a good thing to have out during take-off or landing as it can become a very deadly projectile during violent deceleration (read crash).  But an iPod or CD player?  Really?  It’s going to be in my pocket or in the seat pocket regardless of if it’s on or off.  Small electronics like that are required to accept interference and are prohibited from generating much interference by the FCC.  So what harm really comes from someone listening to their iPod or CD player during take-off or landing?

  27. Anonymous says:

    Mercatore: That’s common over most of the world. It’s rarely enforced though – I’m sure you can imagine the chaos that would ensue if someone was told they weren’t allowed to take their refrigerator onto the plane 20 minutes before takeoff.

    Personally I’m not too concerned about having cellphone use banned during flights, although if they were allowed it might prevent them all from going off like crickets the instant you get into the terminal :-)

  28. Anonymous says:

    A flight attendant told me you can’t listen to an iPod or CD player during takeoff/landing because you can’t hear if the captain makes an announcement not because of interference.

  29. Anonymous says:

    waleri: by "for your own safety" they mean "from the other passengers". I’d rather travel with a corpse than have the stench of cigarettes through the plane.

    I think the "pack your own" checkin would work quite well, at least for bigger planes. Just have the bag check at the security gate and a bunch of air cargo containers on trolleys where the passengers can get them. Very similar to what they have now, just without the baggage handlers. The problem would be the tight schedules that loading uses and the fight from everyone wanting their bag to go on top rather than under 1.5m of other people’s bags.

    I’ve seen the process a few times when I’ve flown with my recumbent bicycle, as it won’t go in a bike box so it just gets, uh, "placed carefully" at the top of a container.

  30. Phil is spot-on. Unless all planes were retro-fitted with thick doors like those that separate the cockpit from the cabin anything would be audible.

    Thinking back to when airplanes allowed smoking, do you also remember that people *did* survive without cell phones (well, at least those that would easily fit on your person)?

  31. Anonymous says:

    Re: cell phones affecting flight operations… Hmmm, something’s not right here. If nail clippers are being taken away from passengers because they may be dangerous to other passengers, why aren’t cell phones prohibited *completely* from carry-on luggage? I mean, nail clippers *aren’t* going to bring down a plane, but apparently cell phones can (I didn’t read the post-gazette article, but I’ve seen others implicating cell phones in several crashes).

    WTF gives? We’re cavity-searching grandmothers, just on the off chance we can prohibit a terrorist action, but we’re allowing free reign to people bringing electronic devices on board? Never mind the damn cell phones, how hard would it be to assemble an EMP generator from parts hidden in cavities in a laptop, IPod and whatnot? (Crap, is that Homeland Security at my door?)

    This whole "prohibited items" deal is just feel-good, "your government is protecting you" nonsense.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I do lot of short-haul flights. Flights in the region

    > of 40-80 minutes. If I check in lugguge,  I have to turn up

    > at the airport about 1.5 hours before departure, queue

    > to check-in, and wait upwards of 20-30 minutes after landing

    > to wait for my luggage to appear on the carousel.

    Would not you rater prefer a 180 mph trip on an ICE or a TGV or even on an Acela? No takeoff, no touchdown, less security hurdles. United States transportation system is confined with cars/trucks/airplanes. Very few trains and train routes, no fast trains except Acela Express. Fast trains are ideal for trips like yours.

  33. Rather than sections of the plane, how about "yapping" and "non-yapping" flights?  Market segmentation, ahoy!

  34. Anonymous says:

    Funny you should mention the smoking/cell phone connection.  I just read an article describing how the lighted "No Smoking" signs are going to be replaced with "No Mobile" lights on some airlines.  Seems appropriate to me.  I always did wonder why we still have the "No Smoking" lights.

  35. Anonymous says:

    "Eric" is the only one who gave the right explanations. To prove his point, you can go to http://www.t-mobile.com, click on Coverage, punch your address. You will have a good indication of the density of base stations on the ground. A cellphone in a plane will see 100’s if not 1000’s of base stations. A single phone call from a plane will jam 100’s of base stations.

  36. Anonymous says:

    The technical term for what Eric describes is called "co-channel interference". It happens on hills and skyscrapers as well. Any in-flight cell phone use will have to be done with a on-board system.

    I remind people that for the last 30 years, two small companies (now) called AT&T and Verizon have been putting phones in front of people’s faces on the back of seats. AT&T pulled out a few years back… When was the last time you saw somebody spending $4 a minute to talk on Verizon Airfone? How is using your cell phone instead of a seat-back phone going to change a thing?

  37. Anonymous says:

    Jon: "How is using your cell phone instead of a seat-back phone going to change a thing?"

    As you pointed out, they cost an arm for the first minute and a leg for each minute after. Cellphones are a bit more reasonable, and don’t require you to swipe a credit card before you start.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Was the original post meant to be tongue-in-cheek, or has Raymond genuinely reinvented the "quiet coaches" of the UK’s intercity trains?

    Sadly, they don’t work. Few British people are impolite enough to ask yappers to desist. Those that do are generally ignored. Very few will walk up to someone yapping, grab their phone, and hurl it into another coach, crying "fetch!".

  39. Anonymous says:

    Internet servers could easily be accomodated on planes and provide functional email, messaging and VOIP service. I have flown on Al Italia 747’s where cows occupied the back half of the plane and their mooing was highly preferable to yapping cell phoners and idiots with screaming, crying kids. Put the latter in the back of the plane with the cows and a metal door and everyone would be happy.

  40. Anonymous says:

    So you suggest forbidding parents with infants to use planes?

    Kids should travel in the cargo hold.

    > Put the [kids] in the back of the plane with the cows and a metal door and everyone would be happy

    Only if you isued the rest of the passengers with electric cattle prods.

    (As you might have guessed, I don’t like children very much. Unless roasted with an orange sauce.)

  41. Anonymous says:

    Top Tip. When thinking of flying with your normal airline, choose a budget carrier. Instead of spending £250 on a ticket, buy 10 £25 budget tickets, then have the back section of the plane all to yourself where no-one will annoy you with their mobile, child or excess baggage.

    :-)

  42. Anonymous says:

    Fast trains are ideal for trips like yours.

    As soon as they have trains crossing the Irish Sea, I’ll consider it!

  43. Anonymous says:

    @AndyB: There’s one slight problem with your idea. Budget carriers typically don’t assign seats. So instead of getting the 9 seat buffer around you, you’ll end up with 9 empty seats spread across the airplane and all the annoying people still crammed around you. ;-)

  44. Rainald says:

    >You can ask to be seated in the "yapping" or "non-yapping" section. If you’re in the yapping section, then yap all you want. Call your grandmother and talk with her the entire flight about her colonoscopy, see if I care. On the other hand, in the non-yapping section, the phone stays off. <<

    German railways introduced this quite some yeras ago for the Intercity and ICE trains.

    It was relly necessary to separate phone-addicts and people not wanting to be disturbed.

    And it really works (contrary to what Morgan reports on the situation in the UK).

    Rainald

  45. Rainald says:

    >  Your bag however gets a vacation in Minneapolis while you attend business meetings in jeans and sneakers. <<

    A proverbial saying over here in Germany:

    Jet-set

    Breakfeast in Frankfurt, lunch in London, dinner in New York, suitcase in Bomaby.

    Rainald

  46. Anonymous says:

    Brad C wrote:

    > I just read an article describing how the lighted "No Smoking" signs are going to be replaced with "No Mobile" lights on some airlines.

    It’s reality even now. I’ve been on a plane where the "No Smoking" signs were replaced by "No Electronics" signs.

  47. Anonymous says:

    The french TGV have this system with iDTGV tickets : iDZEN (no-yap), and iDZAP (yap).

  48. Anonymous says:

    In recent weeks, jittery people with a safety fetish caused huge delays and cancellations because other passengers had to indulge their irrational fears. Wouldn’t it be awesome if these travellers could be identified, and put on seperate flights with like-minded people so as not to bother experienced travellers? Then they can play amateur air marshal as much as they want.

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