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We Can Hear You Now, Unfortunately

Ben Kamin, a rabbi and author, is creator of Reconciliation, a San Diego-based agency for conflict resolution and pastoral services.

I recently read that commercial airlines are working with federal regulators on a plan to permit passengers to talk on cellular phones at any time during a flight. Technicians would install a small cell tower, pizza-box shaped, inside the jet that would disseminate the signals.

You won’t be able to order a delivery pizza while flying from Orlando to Denver, but you will be able to make the passenger seated next to you crazy by calling your mother in Omaha while you’re bored above Michigan to tell her that the airline chicken you just had was cold and tasteless. This is pertinent information that may drive some of us to buy stock in companies that make anti-noise headphones.

I suppose we all sensed this coming during the cellular tension of every airplane landing. The flight attendants used to announce that the use of cellular phones was prohibited until the aircraft had reached the gate and the cabin door was open. Nobody really paid attention, so the flight attendants mostly gave in. Now most even specify within seconds of touchdown that “you can use your cell phone now.”

Beep! Bell! Bolero! Now we’ve got Schubert’s Unnecessary Symphony of Self-Importance. Nobody can get up, nobody can light a cigarette, nobody can even think of touching the dangerous overhead compartment because contents may have shifted and people could be mauled by malcontent briefcases and grumpy knapsacks. But you can freely turn on a transmitting beam that may seriously disrupt cockpit communications and tell somebody what he or she already read on a home PC or a BlackBerry: You’ve landed.

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This information is as newsworthy as it is redundant. What does your spouse think, that you’re in Atlanta when you are expected in Cincinnati at 11:37?

If the airlines are going to surrender to consumer indulgence and give away any semblance of privacy or peacefulness on board their overstuffed 737s and Airbuses, then perhaps they will agree to a compromise: Let only the people who are in the middle seats, not aisle or window, be allowed to use their phones. The only condition is that the middle passenger, while being granted unlimited lavatory access along with unlimited minutes, has to make and take calls for people in the aisle or window positions. Every middle seat on every plane in this country will remain unoccupied under these conditions and the rest of us will do what we want to do anyway while in flight: sleep and forget all that awaits us in Houston.

This call should not go through.


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