Phones on Flights

In some ways, I’m encouraged that so many people appear to be horrified with the idea that the FAA could remove restrictions on cell phone use aboard commercial airline flights. This isn’t just about a reaction against the continued decline in civility. After all, I haven’t heard a peep about people using cell phones on city buses. But flying has accumulated enough annoying inconveniences over the years to the point that flying is a miserable experience for everyone involved. People are rightly wondering why we would voluntarily allow things to get worse.
But, I have to ask, if becomes legal to use a cell phone on a flight, is it right for an airline to ban the practice? I’m not questioning an airline’s ability to regulate personal conduct. The airlines can be, and have been, downright draconian when it comes to their customers’ conduct, sometimes resulting in arrest and imprisonment. Sometimes the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior can depend on the temperament of an aggrieved flight attendant. In an ideal world for the airlines, all passengers would sit mute and unmoving from boarding to disembarkation. But we are animals. Animals that react in an adverse way to confinement. The experience of flying in the 21st century is one of being dehumanized, of being forced into our animal selves. No other aspect of society so closely resembles the hell of being stuck in the criminal justice system like walking into an airport, and we pay for the privilege.
The thought that someone would be jabbering into a phone next to you on an overcrowded flight that is already two hours late fosters ugly feelings. But in no way is that worse than the indignities of going through airport security, or being nickel and dimed by the airlines, or being shoved into seats that are too small for below-averaged sized people. It’s no worse than being stuck on the tarmac for over an hour waiting for room to taxi, and it’s no worse than not getting a meal on a cross-continental flight.
The FAA is looking into lifting the restrictions because there is no compelling reason, regarding the safe conduct of a flight, for calls to be restricted. The focus should not be whether or not people should be allowed to use their phones on a flight. Rather, we should think about the reasons flying has become such a miserable experience that the thought of someone using a telephone causes so much ire. To me, if the act of flying changed, if it restored much of the dignity it has lost, it wouldn’t matter in the least if a passenger decided to use their phone.