Yes, we need a ban on phone calls on planes

It’s been hard to tell, what with all the SCOTUS news drowning us for the past few weeks, but Congress has actually been taking care of a few regular orders of business recently. One of them was the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and that massive package had quite a few surprises buried in it. Another of those came to light recently and it was a government ban on cell phone calls during commercial airline flights. It’s one of those rare moments where you can find some conservatives agreeing with such a proposal and finding themselves shoulder to shoulder with the editorial board of the Washington Post.

MEMBERS OF Congress are some of America’s most frequent fliers, so perhaps it is no surprise that even the regulation-wary voted this week to prohibit in-flight voice calls as part of a reauthorization package for the Federal Aviation Administration. The rules codify the will of most consumers and airlines alike.

The issue of voice calls on airplanes has taken a back seat this year to clashes over added fees and, most important, air traffic control reform. But a Federal Communications Commission proposal in 2013 to let airlines experiment with travelers switching their connections back on at cruising altitude was met with an uproar, largely from citizens concerned about loud conversations filling the cabin…

No wonder. Constant yammering from a seat companion in cramped quarters over the course of what could be hours of travel is far from pleasant. It is more difficult every day to find refuge from full-time connectivity.

Before getting to the uncomfortable part of the conversation, it’s worth noting that this is literally one of those “80% issues” that politicians love to talk about but can rarely document. In fact, surveys have consistently shown that the percentage of fliers who oppose voice calls on cellphones during flights is actually closer to 90. You don’t need me to list the reasons here because you already know what they are if you spend any serious amount of time in the air.

Returning to the aforementioned “uncomfortable” aspect of the discussion, one question is obvious. I regularly write here about the corrosive effect of excessive government regulations and the need to have less, not more of them. Also, personal preferences in people’s private lives which don’t cause harm to others should be none of the government’s business. Can’t the free market deal with this in-flight phone call question?

No, it can’t. And that’s because too many people are just jerks. (Sorry… not sorry.) This is some blatant hypocrisy on my part and I’m ready to own that. I’m a hypocrite. There you have it. But people who need to regularly travel long distances, either for business or pleasure, don’t have a realistic alternative to flying. And flying is already a horror show which borders on torture. Having someone endlessly yammering on about their private affairs all through a six-hour flight is just another burden we don’t need.

Now that the technology is available to turn on the wifi on planes, by all means, let people break out their phones to text, email, post on social media and all the rest. But stick to the keyboard. You don’t need to have a verbal conversation with anyone that can’t wait until you land. And we already know that we can’t rely on common decency to stop people from doing it so regulate away, Big Brother. At least for today, I’m joining the ranks of the Nanny Staters.