Etiquette Expectations

You’re about to board a flight to the East Coast. A ticket leads you to a small seat in the crowded economy class. You scramble to find room for your carry on luggage in the overhead and patiently (or impatiently in my case) wait for everyone to do the same and sit down so that the plane can finally lift off. Since you’re stuck in this tight position for the next five hours and only able to incline minimally at the discretion of the passenger behind you, what do most people want to do in this situation? Sit back, relax and sleep, right?

Well, your peaceful and quiet ride might soon come to a halt. The Federal Communications Commission is debating whether or not to allow in-flight cell phone calls.

Although there has been previous concern regarding electronics being a hindrance to airplane navigation, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has discredited those ideas saying, “Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules.”

Traditionally airlines have prohibited the use of cell phones, blaming it on the regulations of the FCC. Although the government has restricted the use of making phone calls on an airplane ride, there are other ways that you can communicate while still keeping your phone on airplane mode. Thus, airlines have been able to allow such calls in the past but they have refused, blocking avenues like Skype. If the FCC were to pass this decree, there would be no scapegoat. Yet, would airlines relent and allow phone calls to be made?

Delta Air Lines has refused to allow such calls while other airlines such as United, American and JetBlue airlines have proposed to study the case amongst its flight crew and passengers. These airlines would certainly benefit monetarily if they charged for these calls.

Imagine you’re back in your seat waiting for your plane to lift off. Phones start ringing and people start chatting. The man behind you is talking about a business deal that he is about to close, the woman in front is crying because her boyfriend just broke up with her, and the boy to the left of you is filing the aisles with his boisterous laugh. You cannot help but overhear inappropriate conversations that children should not hear — ones even you probably should not hear.

Don’t forget, there are always kids on board — and with the compressed aisles and longitudinal setup they are bound to overhear even your hushed voice. Although you put headphones on, you cannot escape the loud chatter from the person sitting right next to you explaining the toe fungus that she just acquired. All this while you are trying to take a nap. The next thing you know, you are dreaming about smothering everyone with a pillow.

Patience may be a virtue but what about etiquette? Most in society can sort out rude behavior without imposing rules. Based on experience with a person’s culture and society, he or she knows if a behavior is distasteful or impolite. The allowance of phone calls on airplanes could be a source of further dispute and a fodder for ill-mannered behavior on flights. In my opinion, it would rank above hogging the armrests, inclining the seat too far, and blocking the aisle with your bags so that it becomes too much of a hassle for someone at the window seat to get up and go to the bathroom.

The greatest irony in this is that although the FCC Chairman himself put forth this idea, he disagrees with his own statement. According to Wheeler, “We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on aeroplanes. I feel that way myself.” If the FCC Chairman would not want to listen to the jabbering of others, why would he think others would?


Christine Pham is a third-year year biological sciences major. She can be reached at