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In what may be the worst potential development in flying since airlines started charging for everything from checked luggage to checkered food service, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has announced that airlines may soon be permitted to allow passengers to make cell phone calls during flights.

Please tell me that this is a nightmare from which I shall soon awake — because it may mean I’ll never get another moment’s rest on a plane (they’re hard enough to get as it is).

Just what I want to hear at 30,000 feet: the taxing trials and tribulations — or for that matter the often trivial triumphs — of the stranger seated next to me, snug as we are already in the ever-tighter, crowded cabins. With no escape.

My noise-cancelling headphones should help, but somehow cell-phone conversations seem to permeate even those. And I can’t blast music into my ears while trying to sleep.

Flight attendants see even more difficulties than mere annoyance, framing it as a safety issue. Here’s the statement the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) just released on the matter:

Passengers overwhelmingly reject cell phone use in the aircraft cabin. The FCC should not proceed with this proposal.

AFA opposes any changes that would allow in-flight voice calls. Flight Attendants, as first responders and the last line of defense in our nation’s aviation system, understand the importance of maintaining a calm cabin environment. Any situation that is loud, divisive, and possibly disruptive is not only unwelcome but also unsafe. Many polls and surveys conducted over the years find that a vast majority of the traveling public wants to keep the ban on voice calls in the aircraft cabin. In far too many operational scenarios, passengers making phone calls could extend beyond a mere nuisance, creating negative effects on aviation safety and security that are great and far too risky.

Besides potential passenger conflicts, Flight Attendants also are concerned that in emergencies, cell phone use would drown out announcements and distract from life-saving instructions from the crew.”

Even if cell phones may no longer be regarded as interfering with cockpit communications — which is still a matter of debate — that doesn’t mean we have to allow them to be used in flight.

Baby boomer travelers are probably as guilty as any other generation when it comes to cell phone abuse — i.e., subjecting everyone else around you to your “private” conversations. Does everyone on the plane really want to know all the lurid details about the passenger in 14D’s recent break-up with his girlfriend?

Some airlines in the Middle East and Asia already allow cell phone calls, so it may be the wave of the future. The cell phone industry is solidly behind it, while U.S. airlines are taking a more cautious approach, aware that a lot of their passengers might boycott the first airlines to rescind the current ban. To me, it has the makings of a marketing disaster, until, I suppose, we all become numb to it or someone figures out how to negate the damage.

Proposals range from creating “quiet zones” on planes (which the airlines would no doubt charge extra for), much like the no-smoking sections of old, to putting cell-phone users next to crying babies, which is my personal favorite.

One thing’s for sure: if airlines start to allow this kind of yakking, it would be a huge boon to the noise-cancelling headphones industry.

Readers, are you for or against continuing the cell phone ban on flights? I’d welcome any comments.

 

Be sure to download my free report, “How to Ride the Coming Wave of Boomers,” available here. It’s all about the best ways to market travel to baby boomers — the biggest-spending group of travelers the world has ever seen. It’s also the easiest way to subscribe to my blog, so you won’t miss a posting. Thanks!

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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