In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Cellphones on planes? It’s utterly unbearable

 

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

There was a time – the memory makes me tear up with nostalgia – when if you encountered a person walking down a city sidewalk in a loud conversation with an invisible entity, you knew to step aside and avoid eye contract.

No longer. You can’t just assume that a lone babbler is some disturbed soul gone off his meds. Nowadays, a lonely talker’s probably not even crazy, at least not by any clinical definition. More likely, he has hooked a small black Bluetooth device to one ear, the way medievals once attached leeches to their flesh. Only instead of draining blood from the user, the Bluetooth siphons off civility.

Homicidal might be too strong a description for feelings elicited if you happened to be stuck in a supermarket in front of a Bluetooth prattler. For the record, I have not once murdered, maimed or accidentally dumped a 48-ounce family-sized bag of frozen blueberries on such a person. After a while, you simply come to accept them, with the same shrugging resignation with which ancient Romans accepted Visigoth marauders.

What can you do? Modern life has become so inundated with the din of single-sided cellphone blather that it has become the white noise of urban existence. Back in the 1990s, a few brave restaurateurs tried banning cellphones conversations from their premises. It was futile.

Movies now come with a second soundtrack, the low hum of phone chats; dark auditoriums full of glowing ghostly faces illuminated by iPhones.

Yet, we endure. (Except when I walk into a men’s room and hear a voice from a toilet stall. Can’t help myself. I enter the adjacent stall and quickly flush the commode, hoping a loud and unmistakable WHAWOOOSE resonates through the phone, hoping that it’s his boss or girlfriend on the other end. OK. It’s a feeble revenge, but until I get myself a concealed carry permit, it’s all I got.)

But now comes the utterly unbearable. Next month, the FCC seems likely to add cellphone talk to other tortures heaped on victims of air travel.

“Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, indicating that the end is near for the longtime ban against airborne cellphone talk.

The prospect of being trapped in a 17-inch wide middle seat on an hours-long flight next to a cellphone gabfest is too horrible to contemplate. Let them text. Let them e-mail. But please God, please Tom Wheeler, not this.

I’d rather be seated next to a flatulent, chain-smoking Gator fan. And I’m not alone. A University of Michigan poll found 60 percent of us think other people’s cellphone conversations have become “a major irritation.” Forty percent wanted an outright law against cellphone use in museums, movies theaters and restaurants. That was in 2006. Long before anyone contemplated the same torments 30,000 feet up.

Certainly flight attendants are appalled. Their union, the Association of Flight Attendants warned, “ Any situation that is loud, divisive, and possibly disruptive is not only unwelcome but also unsafe.”

Last week, a petition was launched on the White House “We the People” website, complaining that forcing passengers “to listen to the inane, loud, private, personal conversations of a stranger is perhaps the worst idea the FCC has come up with to date. This would make an already cranky, uncomfortable travel experience exponentially worse, and as a frequent flier and concerned citizen, I think the administration needs to nip this in the bud.” But as of Monday evening, the site had only gathered a piddling 3,099 signatures out of the 100,000 needed to elicit an official response from the Obama administration. Oh, the apathy.

Last year, Delta Airlines surveyed its passengers and found 64% of its passengers thought in-flight calls would “negatively impact their onboard experience.”

You might wonder what the hell the other 36 percent were thinking. Unhappily, we’re sure to find out exactly what they’re thinking. At the restaurant. At the movies. In line at the supermarket. On the next flight to Atlanta. Whether we want to hear or not.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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