Debra J. Saunders
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"In space, no one can hear you scream" was the tag line for Ridley Scott's breakthrough 1979 sci-fi flick, "Alien." With the Federal Communications Commission's decision to revisit its 22-year ban on using cellphones in flight on passenger planes, that could change.

Oh, joy, was my first thought. That obnoxious Alec Baldwin wannabe who makes the crew nag him until he turns off his toys is going to have his loud way with everyone from boarding to landing.

The past few decades have seen a transformation of the friendly skies. With smaller seats, tighter rows and shrinking food, cellphone usage could be the final element that turns air travel into the equivalent of taking Bay Area Rapid Transit. You want to read the newspaper, but it's hard to concentrate when a nearby passenger is barking orders to his staff, a young stud is lying to his partner and another passenger is talking about absolutely nothing -- but loudly.

Flight attendants are not amused. "Any situation that is loud, divisive, and possibly disruptive is not only unwelcome but also unsafe," quoth a statement from the Association of Flight Attendants. "In emergencies," the union also pointed out, cellphone "use would drown out announcements and distract from life-saving instructions from the crew."

Not even the head of the Consumer Electronics Association wants to allow passengers to yap on their devices. "I'm a human being, and I fly a lot," Gary Shapiro told me. "I've yet to meet anyone who thinks it's a good idea," not even cellphone executives.

"I flew five of the last seven days" last week, he added. "I think I would shoot myself if people were talking on the plane." Shapiro advocates banning voice phone calls except in emergencies.

The FCC didn't help itself by announcing its thinking in mid-November, before the holiday travel season, when peak demand and bad weather lead to flight cancellations, annoying delays and a spirited anger at airline policies. Commissioners will vote Dec. 12 whether to move the proposal forward for public comment.

Hmm. Public comment. I hope they can turn down the volume.

For the FCC's part, Shapiro noted, emitting electronics need not jam a plane's radio frequencies. A new rule should allow passengers to text friends and retrieve data. That's good.

Our Betters in Europe, without controversy, allow passengers to talk on their mobile phones. The old Airfones didn't ruin flying, probably because they were so pricey.

The FCC is supposed to make rulings based on technology, The Washington Post editorialized. That's what the FCC proposes to do, so let airlines experiment and decide what works best.

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Debra J. Saunders


 
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