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Work/Life: Next Flight: Talking or No?

One of the last places on the planet to which you can still escape the Internet is in flight. That’s about to change. As Jason Fry reports in The Wall Street Journal, the Internet is coming to airplanes. It was inevitable. The big question is, can cellphones be far behind? Picture this: The gate agent checks you in and then asks if prefer the Talking or No Talking section.

One of the last places on the planet to which you can still escape the Internet is in flight. That’s about to change.

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As Jason Fry reports in The Wall Street Journal, the Internet is coming to airplanes. It was inevitable.

The big question is, can cellphones be far behind?

Picture this: The gate agent checks you in and then asks if prefer the Talking or No Talking section.

Hmmm. My initial reaction to the idea of inflight cellphones was, Great, Wonderful. Taking or making calls in the air will definitely help me juggle a hectic schedule and it sure can’t hurt my productivity.

Then the reality hit me.

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It was during the holidays. I was going through pre-boarding when I encountered a businessman with a total lack of self-awareness. He stood in line oblivious to his surroundings — or perhaps just showing off — and was quite loud, quite continuously. I said to myself, Could I put up with sitting next to this individual for five hours…or six, seven, etc.?

No way!

You have to wonder whether cellphones would ignite international incidents.

Sure, you can make the claim that people will adjust. Cellphones came to commuter trains, buses, cars, grocery stores — and we got used to them.

But is a plane more like a theater or one of those restaurants where they warn you to turn your cell off before entering?

Perhaps the airlines will copy Amtrak’s “quiet car” idea. Perhaps they’ll charge more for cellphone seating. Perhaps people will use technology to shut out the sound they don’t want to hear, as they already do now, i.e., with headsets and ear buds plugged into movies and iPods.

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Still, the whole idea of using cellphones on planes gives me pause.

Sure, as a business traveler I’m always looking for ways and means to be more productive. Giving me connectivity in flight would enable me to get more work done on my laptop, BlackBerry, cellphone.

On rare occasions I have used the inflight satellite phone when an air delay necessitated notifying the folks back home. But the cost was not cheap and the sound quality was surprisingly poor. If cell service is anything like this, it certainly would limit my desire to use a cell in flight.

Maybe we ought to first try limiting cellphone use to text messaging? On the other hand, I don’t know how you’d police it once the genie’s out of the bottle. One way or the other, the airlines are going to get an earful from passengers. I suspect they might want to weigh that feedback against the revenue they might get for letting fliers connect in the air.

I also suspect that if you’re like me and don’t enjoy forced eavesdropping, you’re going to start shopping for a world-class set of earplugs.

Soon.

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Road Warrior • Miami • www.amadeus.com

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