Allow texts and emails in-flight, but not calls

Dave Loebsack, my US House Representative, wants to know: Should passengers on a plane be able to make phone calls while in flight?

He posed that question to constituents in an email yesterday. Currently, airline passengers are only able to use cell phones to play games and listen to music. Placing calls and texting is prohibited. It is apparently possible, though, which is why there is discussion in Congress about lifting the ban.

“I want to know, based on your experiences, how far you think this ban should extend,” Loebsack wrote. “Should phones be allowed for just texting and emailing, or are you OK with calls being made? I want to hear from you.”

I was pleasantly surprised. I receive Loebsack’s sporadic newsletters and was impressed to find him directly appealing for opinions instead of explaining his own reasoning. His email included links to a survey where we could log our opinion, which I gladly did. (An email address was required for submission, so the survey doubled as a newsletter sign-up.)

The survey offered a couple options: maintain the current policy, allow passengers to send texts and emails but not place calls, and allow phone calls to be made. I have no problem with the current ban on sending and receiving data and calls, but I was torn on whether or not it should be amended and how.

I am not attached to my cell phone like many others. Sure, I have my phone nearby at most times, but I do not need it for constant entertainment. I am not constantly staring at or thumbing it. If someone texts me while I am visiting with friends I will reply eventually, but I try not to neglect face-to-face companionship. That takes precedent. When I board a plane I make one last call to let people know I am about to leave and then turn my phone off. I do not turn it on again until entering the next airport. I have an iPod to listen to music and play solitaire.

Initially, I leaned toward choosing the option to keep the policy as is. It works. However, I think it would be fair to allow passengers to send texts and emails. I am sure airlines charge exorbitant rates for in-flight Internet access, which only a select few think twice about paying, so I think allowing everybody access to data would be a good idea. (I am unsure how the system would work, though. Would passengers need to connect to a special in-flight network, essentially expanding the existing system, or is it possible to connect to the usual networks while in flight?) But do I want fellow passengers to make and receive calls, and endure a flightful of banal, one-sided yakking for hours in a confined space? Hell no!

So I gave Loebsack my opinion: Let people text and email (as long as the sounds have been silenced), but continue the ban on phone calls. I hope others feel the same way.

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