Air Travelers Say No to Cell Phones

Survey Says: No Yakking On Planes (TechWeb News)

By a landslide, air travelers don’t want to add cell phone chatter to their already-long list of in-flight complaints, a survey says.

The poll, conducted on behalf of the National Consumer League and a flight attendants’ association, found that 69 percent of those surveyed wanted to keep cell phone restrictions in place on planes, while just 21 percent thought it was fine to gab once off the ground.

In December 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed lifting its long-running ban on the use of cell phone and wireless data communication devices during U.S. flights.

Most of the negative results hovered around the 80 percent mark, the survey, released Thursday, showed, on issues ranging from “air rage” to emergency communications.

Seventy-eight percent, for instance, agreed that cell phones would contribute to the “already-tense, close quarters of an airplane” and could lead to unruliness, or confrontations between yammering passengers and flight attendants. Even more — 82 percent — said cell phones might “make planes uncomfortable and be disruptive” to passengers who wanted to nap or read.

“We’re not surprised that people responded so negatively to the idea of cell phone use being allowed on airplanes,” said Susan Grant of the National Consumer League, in a statement. “This survey and the popularity of the Do Not Call Registry illustrate the growing desire of many consumers to put up the ‘do not disturb’ sign and have some peace and quiet.”

I haven’t studied this issue enough to comment on the actual merits of the cell-phone ban (though, if you want to know my thoughts on the NDNCR, you can click here). But, based solely on personal preferences, I’d opt for no calls on planes. I think that it would, in fact, lead to unruliness. While it’d be nice to phone family and friends, especially if the flight is behind schedule, I fear that there’d be a good deal of abuse. As is, people scatter for their phones once the plane lands, so I can only imagine the extra nuisance that would result from all-out usage.

But, again, that’s just my taste. I’m sure that there are perfectly legitimate arguments out there for limiting the FCC’s intervention. At the moment, I’m simply inadequately informed to share more than my gut reaction.

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Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. Scott Dillard says:

    If the flight is going to be late or re-routed, then the pilot can announce that people have 15 minutes to call and talk or leave a message. That’s all they need to do. If I had to fly 5 hours between two yacking dolts on cells I would commit double murder.

  2. Scott: That seems like a reasonable proposal (the 15-minute part, not the double murder….).

  3. Michael says:

    The reason foten given for not allowing cell phones is because they interfere with airline frequencies. That’s untrue (to any extent where it would make any difference)

    But I would still ban them because of how annoying they are. I totally agree with Scott. It seems to me that when people talk on a cellphone, the decibel level of their voices go up by a factor of ten

    Not to mention those annoying F—-NG ring tones that make you want to turn around and beat the living shit out of the kid behind you and rip out his freakin’ throat with your bare hands.

  4. Michael says:

    Oh my. Did I just post that?

  5. Scott Dillard says:

    Yes, Michael, you did. Now I am reminded of that scene from the movie “Airplane” where a line of people are waiting to beat someone.

  6. John says:

    How about a “cellphone class”?
    Put all the folks who want to chat in a special section.
    What a hoot that would be!
    It might give them a hint about how annoying they are.

  7. Marie says:

    omg!!!!!! These are truly the absolute funniest comments I have read in ages. You are so right Michael and thanks for the hoot. And Scott what a super idea,,,,,it would be nice to notify people if the plane is running behind.

  8. bryan says:

    While I find people talking on cell phones to be quite annoying at times, I have the same reaction to someone who wants to “chat” with me while i’m trying to sleep or read or whatever. Or the person next to me who insists on talking with his/her partner throughout the flight, or people who seem not to understand the concept of soap.

    All of those are annoyances. Should they therefore be banned by the FAA? I think not.

    Rather, let the industry sort this matter out.

  9. McGehee says:

    Put all the folks who want to chat in a special section.

    With special “open-air” seating.

    I have the same reaction to someone who wants to “chat” with me while i’m trying to sleep or read or whatever.

    Them too. Let them chat with the people with the cell phones.

  10. Just Me says:

    I don’t travel by air enough to have a real opinion, but I don’t know that allowing cell phone use would totally annoy me enough to ban it.

    I could see during take offs and landings, but I am not sure that somebody talking on their cell phone would be that much different than somebody talking to the person next to them.

  11. James Joyner says:

    Given that the safety issue is a canard, I’d argue that the FAA ought to lift the ban as an instrument of public policy but that airlines should be free to reimpose the ban for the convenience of their customers. Unless the government is going to ban cell phones in restaurants, movie theaters, super markets, walking down the street, and other places where it’s merely annoying, it’s hard to justify it on airplanes.

  12. Michael says:

    James: Agreed. There is no safety issue with the phones. Just annoyance issues.