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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

April 18, 2013 at 1:50 PM

Could you stand it if passengers made cellphone calls on flights?

We were talking about the strong possibility that the FAA will loosen restrictions on electronic devices during flights, and my mother-in-law’s eyes went wide.

“Well, all I can say is they’d better have a separate section for people who make phone calls.”

I knew exactly what she meant.

Gogo, the company that offers in-flight Wi-Fi on many United States flights, this month sent its group of customer  advisers the results of a customer survey about calling and texting in the air. The company didn’t say how many customers were polled (as far as I can tell this wasn’t a public release). But still. The results were interesting.

Especially on Question 3…

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 9.52.40 PM

When we can already email on planes, I don’t see why texting would really be a “nuisance.” Phone calls are a different story. An overwhelming proportion of consumers surveyed said they would rather other passengers text than call on a flight. Just 2 percent of respondents said they disagreed with that sentiment.

To the 11 percent of respondents who said they’re neutral on that: Really?

It is amazing, how irritating it can be to hear just one half of a stranger’s conversation. (Why? One recent study suggests it’s because they hijack your cognitive functions.) I’m writing from Third Place Books in Ravenna, where a couple women are chatting just behind me to my right. No big deal. But if it was just one of the women, speaking into her phone — at the same, considerate volume, no less — I and my fellow laptop loungers would stare her down if she kept the conversation to anything more than a few seconds.

At least here we’d have the option of walking away. On a plane? …

(Well speak of the devil. I just got a call from my eye doctor. I picked it up and gave a quiet, one word answers to confirm my appointment. “Just calling to confirm your appointment at 2 o’clock tomorrow.” “Yup.” “Do you have vision insurance?” “Nope.” “We’ll see you tomorrow.” “OK.” END.)

Don’t freak out, though. The FAA is feeling pressure to let passengers keep reading devices like iPads and Kindles on during takeoff and landing, cellphones are a long way from getting anything other than a Wi-Fi signal on flights — and only when the plane is high in the air.

Domestically, anyway. British airline Virgin Atlantic started allowing airborne calls on some flights last year, but many foreign airlines have made a habit of it. Dubai-based Emirates was the first to let passengers make calls back in 2008.

Other people’s calls are annoying. What about our own? I don’t know about you, but it’s kind of nice to still have some level of disconnection when I’m on a flight. I’ll buy Gogo Wi-Fi if I have to get work done (though the $14 price per flight can be pretty steep on a puddle jumper). But knowing I can’t schedule calls is … nice.

Airplanes are one of those funny places where we’re all cramped together, but want to be alone. With rare exception, the extent of my interaction with the people sitting inches (who am I kidding — an inch) away is an “Excuse me” to get to my seat and a hand off of an empty cup and a peanuts bag.

Then again, if there’s a way we overworked Americans can increase our productivity, we tend to pursue it.

In his letter to the FAA urging it to speed up the process of allowing more electronic devices to be left one during takeoff and landing last December, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski laid out that case:

“[Mobile devices] empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family, and they enable both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient, helping drive economic growth and boost U.S. competitiveness.”

Access to content and email helps with that. Are we going to demand the ability to make phone calls as well?

I hope that separate section is good and cramped.

Thanks to Seattle’s Marcy Salo for passing on the GoGo study!

Seen a story that caught your eye re: digital life? Email me at mguzman@seattletimes.com or reach me on Twitter or Facebook.

Comments | More in Habits, Mobile, transportation

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