Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Buy your ticket on a giant, airborne phone booth

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Well, now, this could be fun. They are thinking of allowing cellphone calls on airplanes.

This, because you don't already feel like you're sitting in the next person's lap.

This, because you're not already ignoring the flight attendants.

This, because obviously -- with the guy snoring in front of you, the kid kicking the seat behind you, the constant pinging of bells, announcements from the flight deck and blasting jet engines -- the plane is not loud enough.

Now, once above 10,000 feet, you could drift off to the lullaby of "Can you hear me? HOW ABOUT NOW?... CAN YOU HEAR ME?"

I don't get it. Are they trying to start a war up there? Does the government really approve of this? The same government that is so concerned about safety it makes you throw out a shampoo bottle if it's more than 3.4 ounces? That government now will create a tinderbox of loud, interfering conversation, all perpetrated by handheld devices that have been known occasionally to trigger explosions?

Really? Am I the only one lost here?

Well, lost or not, it seems likely to happen now that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has proposed lifting the ban on in-flight cellphone calls.

Isn't it strange how for years the very thought of this was considered a threat? But now?

"The time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.

Of course, by "outdated and restrictive" he possibly means "a revenue source not yet exploited."

Because you don't think you're going to use your cellphone for free up there, do you?

A CNN Money report claims in-flight phone calls could be worth $2.4 billion a year for airlines. That'll create a lot of sudden cheerleaders. We've seen what has happened to in-flight Internet service, which started with free trials and is now, for a long flight, more expensive than a fancy meal.

Don't think that isn't coming once the phones start ringing. The airlines already charge for bags, seats, food, drinks, places in line, a couple inches of legroom and, pretty soon, no doubt, using the bathroom.

Why not get in on the most addicting activity known to modern humans? We live on our phones. Never mind that an airplane cabin is one of the few places left, outside of a church, where quiet can be enjoyed. Never mind there will be nowhere your business associates can't find you. Never mind that flying is stressful enough without having to make calls to the office.

Never mind, either, all the stories about flier outrage over this proposal, protest groups, certain airlines refusing to go along. Or Wheeler suddenly saying he's personally against calls on planes. This, to me, is an inevitability. We will use our phone during flights one day.

And here's why. We refuse to deny ourselves anything. Think about it. We live in an age where we can program our DVRs while surfing in Hawaii. We can watch our home security cameras while sitting in a boardroom. We can open our garage doors before arrival, turn on our washing machines remotely, and, of course, speak, text, email or share photographs with anyone in the world from anywhere in the world.

It is just a matter of time before people mumble "ridiculous" at the idea of being in a plane and not having everything at our fingertips.

If you don't believe me, remember, there was actually a time when having a radio in a car was considered an unthinkable luxury. Now, how would you react if you rented a car without one?

So get ready to hear everybody's voice on a plane the way you now feel everyone's elbows and knees. We can only hope they price these calls so high, it discourages use. Otherwise, if you get a middle seat, you soon will understand what it feels like to be an air traffic controller.

Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.

-- Detroit Free Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2013 A9

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