Yakking on the Phone at 32,000 Feet in the Sky

Barry Ritholtz heard the news that the Federal Communications Commission is thinking about allowing unrestricted cell phone use on planes and his response is: There will be blood.

Take railroads, for example. In the New York metro area, there are four major rail lines –AmtrakLong Island RailroadMetro-North, and New Jersey Transit. These commuter railroads are among the busiest in the nation. As the links above show, all of them have implemented quiet cars. This was necessary to quell the disputes and arguments and even fistfights that have broken out on commuter lines because of rude cell phone usage. Note that these trips are usually under an hour.

My own experiences on the rails have led to a few arguments and a near altercation. (Thankfully, a conductor intervened before I violated the conditions of my parole). I did find that shaming worked well — I used to post photos of really rude people on the trains atLirrcommuterfromhell.com, along with a brief description of their offenses. Changing my commuting routine brought some relief as well: I always travel with a fully charged iPod, a stack of reading material and a full download of podcasts to go with my noise-reducing headphones.

The difference between the rails and planes, he argues, is that if you don’t like the noise happening in the train car you’re in, you can just get up and move to a different car—hopefully, a quiet car if one is available. And it’s not like you can just switch planes in mid-air (maybe? I don’t know the future).

Photo: Sam Churchill


13 Comments / Post A Comment

Allison (#4,509)

Oh, I’ll definitely be arrested if this happens.

@Allison Yeah, I am not afraid of asking someone to be more quiet on the phone my 7am commute to work. I just don’t want to hear about your legal, money, boyfriend or health problems on my 30 minute bus ride to work and I DEFINITELY don’t want to hear about them for an eight-hour plane ride.

this is the worst thing I’ve heard all week!

Allison (#4,509)

@Madeline Shoes or your sales pitch over and over again.

deepomega (#22)

Sure, but the tone of this is all kinds of fucked up. A lot of people just can’t accept the idea of public-use transit. (As in, not traveling in your own private bubble.) Why is a cell phone worse than the dude who spent 6 hours hitting on the woman in the middle seat between us? It’s not! It’s just another type of public annoyance you have to accept as part of the price of TRAVELING THOUSANDS OF MILES IN AN AFTERNOON.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@deepomega I’m okay with polite chit chat for a few minutes, but when people just will not stop talking to me I kind of lose my mind. And I’ve been in situations where it’s not possible to move, and no amount of blatant ignoring them has worked. I had a guy on the bus recently who just kept asking me questions, even after I had moved into just shrugging instead of answering him, and then just stopped altogether. He just kept going, as I kept my nose buried deep in my book (too crowded to move). There’s really no way to stop these people.

mintyesq (#2,436)

@deepomega I agree! I’m not a fan of lots of loud talking when I commute/travel, but until I own a private jet, I know I am going to have to suck it up. Also, it has always struck me as odd that people are willing to overlook a couple or a group engaged in lively conversation (say, in a restaurant or on a train), but will go absolutely bananas if a single person is in the same setting on a cell phone. Especially in restaurants! I don’t get it – why is it any “worse” if a diner is chatting away on a phone call, rather than to someone that is actually in the restaurant. I hate speaking on my cell when I’m in public, so I don’t imagine that I will take advantage of the proposed rule, but I don’t think it is the end of the world. Maybe everyone will practice restraint!

@mintyesq There’s actually a reason for that! Apparently, when you only hear one half of a conversation (so – a cell phone call), it’s harder for you to tune it out, because you can’t hear the reaction/cadence of the person responding. It’s easier to tune out a two or more person conversation because your brain isn’t waiting for the second person to fill in the blanks.

Hopefully that makes sense? I’m not a scientist, just read too much.

Liz the Lemur (#3,125)

@deepomega @mintyesq Here’s the link to the study.

Allison (#4,509)

@polka dots vs stripes yeah, the constant noise vs the intermittent.

Also I tend to find that commute hour buses and trains are relatively quiet. It’s the off hour ones that are more likely to have people traveling together and talking.

Eric18 (#4,486)

@deepomega Because phone use will be FAR MORE common and annoying than some guy/gal hitting on someone.

Penelope Pine (#2,808)

@deepomega when that happens to me, I tell the person to stop talking to me immediately or I will “pluck your right eyeball out of your skull and make you eat it in front of me”. For skeezy guys, substitute “cut your dick off” for the eyeball.

gyip (#4,192)

Well, maaaaaaaaaaaaybe the flight attendants will help shush rude passengers? But I doubt enough to make a difference.

Taking the trains in England were the worst. We only took a few, but each time, we were stuck beside a wailing child (I bet he’ll really enjoy Paris!) or extremely loud teenagers. It was incredibly trying.

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