The actual in-flight experience has had little to recommend to it since it stopped being a luxury characterized by attentive service and turned into a bus in the sky. Yes, that was sometime in the last century.
Frankly, even with all of the downside that comes with business travel, I will admit there are benefits that come from being confined in an aircraft and freed from some of the connectivity that comes with modern telecommunications. I find that flight time can be extremely productive to catch up on email, writing documents, creating presentations, and other work that generally can best be done in long, uninterrupted periods.
But now even that hideaway time is going the way of the passenger pigeon. That's because in-flight cell phone service has just arrived at low-cost carrier Ryanair. Thus we in the U.S. cannot be too far behind.
Sure, a case can be made that a business traveler with cell phone access during flight instantly becomes more productive. There have always been the cases where the in-flight delay messes up your pending meeting. (By the way, whatever happened to the in-seat "sky phone"?) Having the ability here to make the call on your mobile phone certainly will be convenient. And yes, greater productivity is always the reason for each incremental technological add-on, from lugging a laptop to thumbing a BlackBerry. But I am starting to wonder whether these devices face a law of diminishing returns. After all, a road warrior is not an always-on automaton, as much as some corporations might think, wish, or assume. Cell phones by themselves aren't such a terrible burden; but there is such a thing as a straw and when it comes to add-ons, that camel's back is you and me both.
My objection to airborne cell phones is the same as with those who object to a cell phone in a theater, restaurant, museum, or church. It doesn't belong there. Why? Simple: the space is too confined and passengers have no option to get away from a chatty neighbor short of copycatting those unfortunate hara-kiri seatmates of Robert Hayes in the movie "Airplane!"
Come on, you say? Yes, while it's still fairly rare for people talk much on planes because of the background noise, I believe that's less a practical barrier than a generational one. Being in a small space among strangers doesn't seem to be much hindrance to a younger generation that assumes text messaging was written into the Bill of Rights. Trust me: they will have no compunction about phoning home due to simple boredom. From there it's a slippery slope of temptation for salespeople to work down their call backlog and so on. People really aren't good about policing themselves on a plane, and they'll be worse about a function - telephoning - that they see no need to police at all.
How many people can be talking all at once on an airplane before it drives the other passengers bats? My guess is, not many. Now imagine an A380 with 800 clucking cell phone callers. I dread the thought.
There is one small ray of light in this otherwise gloomy night of technological overreach, and that is the fee that in-flight cell phone users must cough up to connect. The Ryanair set-up requires a user to pay that third party which enables the air-to-ground transmission. It might just be - just maybe - this fee will be hefty enough to dissuade fliers from turning your airplane into one big phone booth in the sky.
Road Warrior • Miami • www.us.amadeus.com