Jim Harper is director of information policy studies at the Cato
Institute and is a member of the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee. He maintains a Web site about federal spending, Washington Watch.com.
Should NASCAR be
A FEW YEARS AGO, I took a transatlantic flight on an airline that was
testing broadband Internet access. They offered both wired and wireless
versions. Eager to tinker online from the sky—and brag about it to my
friends—I spent the evening doing in a plane what I usually do at work
or in my living room.
The experience taught me again how technology opens new vistas to us and brings the comforts and pleasures of home literally across the world. It also showed that there is no fundamental
reason why we could not use wireless communications on planes.
Most resistance to allowing cell phones on planes probably comes from people worried
about having a neighbor who talks too much or too loudly. But promoting good manners is
not the job of federal regulators. That is up to the airlines and passengers themselves. As in
restaurants and theaters, people should limit their conversations and keep their voices down.
But, again, this is not an issue for the federal government.
Some might worry that terrorists could use cell phones to coordinate some kind of attack
on an airplane. We all feel passionate about airlines and terrorism, but our job is to be smart.
We must recognize that a suicide bomber will not obey rules about cell phones. And, remember,
some of the heroes of 9/11 used their cell phones in flight to learn of the terrorist plot and
prevent the fourth plane from being used as a weapon.
It is easy to dismiss the benefits of technology or overemphasize the bad aspects, forgetting
the good. Allowing cell phones on planes might mean that we occasionally overhear a conversation we do not want to. But millions of times a year, it will allow people to be in better touch
with one another.
There must be thorough design and testing to make sure cell phones do not interfere with
avionics. Once that is complete, we should use our phones in flight—quietly and briefly—to
plan reunion with loved ones, check voice mail and for all our good purposes. Allowing cell
phones to be used on planes will again let technology expand our horizons. C
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented
and are presented to foster discussion.
Costco and The Costco Connection
take no position on any Debate topic.
from experts in the field:
Chuck Underwood is founder/president of Cincinnati-based consulting firm The Generational Imperative Inc. ( www.genimperative.
com). He travels throughout the United States at the rate of one
round trip per week.
I’M ASTONISHED—and ashamed of airline executives—that this
column even needs to be written.
Modern air travel has never been more psychologically stressful,
with security checks that force us to remove our shoes, jackets and
jewelry and then put everything back on 10 feet later; dig our photo IDs from our wallets
and purses multiple times en route to our gate; endure baggage searches and restrictions; lug
extra valuables such as laptops on board because we may no longer lock our suitcases; carry
our meals on board; and sit unnaturally close to each other in coach-class cattle-car seats that
remain impossibly narrow and too close to each other.
But all of this stress will pale in comparison if cell-phone use is permitted during flight.
In this era of super-stressed flying, the relative silence of flight has never been more imperative. And few noises are more maddening than another person talking on a cell phone, which on
an airplane takes place approximately 12 to 18 inches from the ears of people sitting on either side
of the talker. Worse, most of us tend to talk louder on cell phones than on land-line phones.
On a recent flight prior to takeoff, a woman talked on her cell phone, oblivious to the
other passengers whose facial expressions proclaimed their irritation. I counted the number of
seats that her voice reached loudly: 18. Eighteen passengers, forced to tolerate her series of calls
before the flight attendant mercifully shut the plane’s door and announced cell phones must
now be turned off. The relief amongst us passengers was palpable.
To think of tolerating that, but now with multiple passengers doing the same thing at the
same time, on a long flight, is truly unimaginable. Trapped. With absolutely no way to escape it.
The certainty is this: We won’t tolerate it.
Flight attendants and pilots: If your superiors make the most passenger-unfriendly decision in aviation history, prepare to referee arguments and break up fights that will no longer
be merely one drunk getting obnoxious but instead will be two people unloading on each
other. And prepare for three or six or 50 such conflicts. Per flight.
Does this column really need to be written? C
JUNE 2006 The Costco Connection 13
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