Integrity Matters
April 13, 2005

Cell phones, airlines could make noisy pair

Question: (E-180)

Dear Jim:

Will there be integrity issues with unlimited cell phone usage on airlines?


In May 1992, while working feverishly between flights, in an airline "club" at Chicago's O'Hare Field, a fellow traveler was speaking loudly on his cell phone, making my concentration impossible. After staring at him, hoping he would lower his voice, I noticed others doing the same thing. He continued his abrasive noise level. Other business types also were making phone calls, writing notes, but quietly. This individual was oblivious or ignorant; insensitive or simply a clod. Friday nights, after intense work "on the road," when folks are heading home, it is unwise to be loud or rude.

I bit my lip, approached the "noisemaker" and whispered: "I know you are under time pressures to get your calls made. I have stresses, too. Your powerful voice overwhelms my ability to concentrate. Please speak softly. Thanks." I turned and walked away. The hush in the large room was deafening as all eyes watched to see if I would get hit in the nose. My heart was pounding. Fortunately, he accepted my comments and lowered his voice. Suddenly, about 40 folks - when he was not looking at them or me - flashed the "high sign" and nodded approvingly. A crisis was avoided, no punches were thrown, work proceeded again and "everyone" lived happily ever after. But that was then and this is now.

Try that same approach today at 30,000 feet, in a cramped airplane, and there likely will be confrontations. Flight attendants already are overwhelmed "sorting out" travelers' frustrations. Cell phone noise will be blamed when folks are unable to sleep, read or converse with seatmates. Decent people will become testy, feisty and belligerent. Fights will follow. Arrests will be made. If you have not traveled lately, it is already semi-organized mayhem in the air. Planes are dirtier, service is surly and food is approaching inedible. Because there is no "cellular sheriff in the sky," you can expect "vigilantes" to fight for peace and quiet.

"Cellular freedom" is not simply about productivity and staying connected. It also illustrates the self-centeredness of today's air traveler and the greed of cell phone companies and airlines seeking additional revenue streams. Integrity demands that free markets regulate themselves with sound judgment and discretion, or chaos will prevail. When the fights break out, and they will, violated travelers will demand that governments establish stifling regulations. Cellular abuse must be stopped before it can start.

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