Offline at a great height

Two days ago I was sitting in a plane on my way back to Ireland. The doors had been closed and the cabin crew were making the usual safety announcements. I imagine they were the usual ones, though if I am honest I have to admit I’ve kind of stopped listening to these. In any case, on this occasion my attention was focused on my neighbour. He was holding his mobile phone, and turning it nervously around in his hand. It was visibly not switched off. He saw me looking and said, ‘I’m waiting for a call’. I pointed out to him that he was supposed to have switched it off. He mumbled something unintelligible and continued fidgeting with the (still powered on) phone. As the plain taxied to the runway, he continued doing this, hiding it whenever he thought he would be seen by a member of the crew, and then taking it out again.

I have on the whole become sceptical whether having the phone on can really be a safety issue. If it were, cabin attendants would surely demand to see each phone to check it was off, or more more likely still we wouldn’t be allowed take it in the cabin. But nevertheless, I was astounded at my neighbour, who continued to fidget with the phone until long after take-off, at which point I lost interest.

Well, maybe good days are coming for him, as reports are circulating that airlines are hoping to be able to offer mobile services during flights. I suspect that roaming from a few miles up will be even more expensive, but I also bet that there will be plenty of willing customers. I dread the whole thing. As it is, it is becoming impossible to avoid being a victim of passive phoneitis, with loud but inane phone calls now being standard in absolutely every setting. It’s not just the disturbance, it is the sheer irritation that at any rate I feel at the thought of all these people who simply cannot switch off; well actually, they can switch off intelligence, courtesy and sophistication, but not the sheer triviality of most mobile communication.

My grandmother used to say that it is only when we stop talking that we realise we have nothing to say. And if we stay silent long enough, we can begin to communicate properly. And so I can say to any airline considering this that mobile services in the air will not entice me one little bit. Wireless internet, now that’s another matter. After all, I have standards. Double standards.

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3 Comments on “Offline at a great height”

  1. Ultan Says:

    An interesting perspective. I still think a good deal of this behaviour on aircraft and, indeed, in airport lounges, is not motivated by the need to stay connected at all, but to seem important and to show the person next to you that you have a nice mobile phone or laptop…

    I am not sure if we can really help these people. We can hope that a) they realize mobile phone handsets are given away for free, and are popular even out in the African bush, so no big deal, and b) in the case of men, get around to buying a Harley Davidson or 02-D Porsche Boxster to address this pre-male menopausal syndrome permanently, leaving the rest of us to deal with the public use of real technology maturely.

  2. Cian Says:

    from what I understand, mobile phones are capable of interfering with the aeroplane’s guidance systems, however, they do this rarely enough, and with little enough effect that there has yet to be any accidents that can be explained by them. As such, the risk is still a theoretical one and minor compared to the other risks aeroplanes suffer.

  3. Isabelle Says:

    In Japan, mobile phones must be put into silent mode on trains and may not be used there except for silent communication. Sending text messages or browsing the internet, for instance, is fine, and most of the younger generation are kept quite busy with these occupations while travelling.

    On bullet trains (shinkansen), there is a space between any two carriages, where talking on the phone is expressly allowed. I think of those relaxing Japanese journeys at times, when my neighbours in buses or trains outside Japan shout into their mobiles, with no thought for those others who happen to be there!

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