One for the Passengers

It’s a dog-bites-man tale, saying that air travel has become a horrible experience. Still, it could be worse. If Jean-Paul Sartre wrote No Exit today he’d set it on a crowded passenger jet (is there any other kind?) in mid-flight, with every passenger talking on a mobile phone. At least for a while that experience will stay in the realm of fiction. The FCC released an order last week deep-sixing use of cell phones in flight.

Next time I fly I’ll remember: this isn’t as bad as it could be.

12 Replies to “One for the Passengers”

  1. antoinethony

    An iPod functions on a battery and therefore electromagnetic waves are possible to be created by such a device.

    (Sorry I am being too scientific.)

  2. afm

    What I find interesting is that iPods are still banned from use during take-off and landing. I once sat next to a military pilot on a flight and he told me that iPods have absolutely no impact on the plane’s logistics. It is not transferring data/sound via waves… as for cellphones, whether they interfere or not, it’s a good lesson in patience for Americans to turn them off for a bit anyway.

  3. rlromero

    I think airlines should not allow passengers to use their cell phones mid-flight. I understand that prohibiting cell phone use is banning a main source of communication and is a tough regulation to follow. On the other hand, I think that free use on airplanes would raise discomfort levels and severely negate the aviation industry’s ability to meet customer satisfaction. Those who cannot control their use of cell phones would end up violating everyone’s common space and well-being by means of noise pollution ( It would be challenging to control the cell phone privilege.

    Regardless of the convenience that customers desire on plane rides, I fear that cell phones may only cause distractions in critical situations. In the event of an emergency, it’s important that passengers remain alert as possible to take directions from the pilot, and cell phones may only add to chaos.

    If Sartre wrote No Exit in present time and set his drama on a plane that allowed cell phone use, I think the drama could be pulled off using one character. His personal hell would be life without his cell phone (since no one seems to be able to live without one these days). There would also be no pilot. Just one character who is forced to interact with himself and without his cell phone on an empty plane. No exit.

  4. zebra

    Thank you so much antoinethony for your very educated comments on the topic and the links to additional articles. Although I saw several articles in the Wall Street Journal and NY Times that explained the signal problems that cell phones could cause, I could never actually explain it to anyone that well. And to student330 who blames the FCC’s ruling for indirectly harming airlines I laugh. Did the ban of cell phones ever stop people from flying before?? I don’t think so. Do you think people are going to suddenly stop flying because they can’t use their cell phones? They never could use them before. Do they have any other travel alternative when travelling long distances? Sure, I guess so if you want to sit in your car and drive for hours. Please be my guest, if talking on your cell phone is that important to you drive, don’t fly.

  5. antoinethony

    A cell phone, like any other electronic device, generates electromagnetic waves. This is a valid scientific fact. I will site information from the house about this subject.

    The Boston University Physics department ( explains electromagnetic waves to be the result of “accelerating charges, moving back and forth” and producing electric and magnetic fields that travel at the speed of light (i.e. 3.0 X 10^8 m/s).
    Electromagnetic waves “carry energy.” They also have momentum, and can exert pressure known as radiant pressure.

    Therefore, going back to a cell phone, it is a known fact that accelerating charges in that plastic device move back and forth producing electric and magnetic fields that travel at the speed of light. These waves carry energy, have momentum and exert radiant pressure on the surrounding.

    An associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, Linda Vahala, working with NASA Langely Research Center, studies the radiation patterns produced by electronic devices on airplanes. According to the article ( cell phones and other wireless portable devices can cause electromagnetic interference to aircraft navigation and communication radio systems. According to Vahala, the emitted electromagnetic waves could be detected as signals by the various radio receiver antennas installed on the airplane. Electromagnetic waves could interfere with the GPS positioning of the plane and its direction.

    Vahala notes that, “electromagnetic waves propagate around the cabin and reflect off materials such as seats and other structures in the cabin. Waves reflect off metal objects and hit the antenna after propagating through the window.” Furthermore, “waves bouncing back and forth off different objects have a higher intensity of electromagnetic power. There is also a higher intensity by windows where you find more waves.”

    Vahala suggests a solution to prevent these waves created by the use of electronic devices from leaving the cabin. She suggests insulating the cockpit and the cabin to prevent the waves from accessing aviation communication systems used by the pilot. Also, she suggests placing an invisible mesh on the windows of the plane to prevent the electromagnetic waves from reaching the antennas on the plane’s exterior. Basically, trapping the passengers with the electromagnetic waves some of them generate through their electronic gadgets while keeping the performance of the plane safe and unaffected.

    I do not want to get into the health problems electromagnetic waves cause to humans. Although the solution suggested by Vahala is practical, I find that locking people in a purely electromagnetic medium is absurd.

    If people need to use their cell phones under extreme necessity, I think they could afford catching the next flight!

  6. student330

    This ruling is indeed terrible. First of all, since there is not hard evidence supporting the FCC claim of cellular inteference, the organization has no basis to declare a cell phone use ban on flights. The quality of flights has been decreasing steadily because of the rising costs of fuel and the increasing competition for flights from low cost providers such as Jet Blue.

    Jet Blue pays its pilots 40% less than the larger airline companies and does not provide a meal option. This type of competition, coupled with the recent volatility in oil prices will soon make flights even more uncomfortable and more expensive. Airlines are trying their best to improve the quality of flights without increasing costs, and this cell phone ban will surely detract from these efforts.

    The idea that cell phone use interferes with ground communication is no basis for banning use, since there is no empirical evidence to support this claim. The FCC is indirectly hurting the airline industry by imposing this restriction, a foolish step without actual proof that cell phones disrupt ground to air communication.

  7. tinasaj

    Just to respond to the comment above me – the 9/11 Commission’s Report does show evidence of cell phone use on the flights and one website even says that ” […] the Commission has built much of its narrative around the phone conversations”. Here is the link to the article.

    Obviously, the use of cell phones didn’t stop the planes from crashing so I think that cell phone use should only be limited to high level employees working inside the plane in cases of emergencies.

  8. jtannhau

    Had the use of cell phones been allowed, yes the noise level on planes would have been louder and more annoying. However, is it possible to look at the use of cell phones as more of a safety measure. If people were allowed to use cell phones throughout the entire flight, do you think 9/11 would have turned out any differently? Although I am not fully in support of cell phone use on planes, I do think it could have benefits.

  9. zebra

    Yes! I read about this prior and post the FCC decision. Horrible horrible idea. As if the bad food(that is even if they have any, many of the airlines don’t even offer peanuts anymore) and lack of any legroom wasn’t enough, let’s add phones. I’m so glad they didn’t approve it. I can only imagine the headaches that cell phones could add to the experience.

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