The problems with cell phone on airline flights

What is it exactly that irritates people around them talking on cell phones? This issue is surfacing again as Singapore Airlines moves closer to allowing cell phone calls during their flights:

Singapore Airlines announced today that it will soon allow wireless connections — for text messages, Blackberrys and perhaps cell phone calls — on its medium- and long-haul flights.

The move comes as the airline announces a multi-million-dollar collaboration with in-flight connectivity provider OnAir to offer Wi-Fi Internet access and other services on its flights.

Details are still being worked out, but when the airline implements the system early next year, it could be the first carrier to allow passengers to make and receive voice calls on their personal cell phones. The airline is waiting to see how customers respond to the idea.

The main issue seems to be that of private space: cell phone conversations can be invasive as one person is trying to do something else (read, sleep, eat, etc.) while someone else is jabbering away on the phone. Yet, there are other activities on flights that cause similar issues that don’t seem to provoke the same ire. People talk with others around them and they can move around quite a bit, particularly on long-haul flights.

Perhaps cell phones amplify these issues by their ubiquity. One person in the article mentions the idea of “cell phone manners” which seems to have something to do with the volume one uses when speaking on a cell phone. This might be a technology issue that can be solved over time but people could also learn to talk more quietly. And perhaps the bigger issue is that once everyone can talk on their cell phones, as one person notes in the article, that means phones could be ringing all the time. So then it is not cell phones per se but rather the fact that everyone is likely to be using them (even those who are irritated by them) once they are allowed.

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