A few weeks ago, I read an article in the International Herald Tribune that struck fear into my heart. No, it wasn’t about the economy (well, not directly) or the latest health study crisis, but a more trivial subject that nonetheless makes me shudder to think of it. The headline of the article says it all: EU moves toward allowing in-flight cellphone calls. At first I hoped it was a late April Fool’s Day joke, but no such luck.
In the abstract I can understand why this might be a good idea; if cell phones don’t pose a threat to the functioning of planes (as seems to be the case), then having a means of communication to let family or friends know about delays or other serious issues seems reasonable. The rational part of my brain can accept this idea, but the raging introvert part of me that believes that if any cell phone use is allowed, someone (or more likely, many) will abuse the privilege. I already tend to get grumpy and panicky in-flight when I feel someone is intruding on my personal space, and the thought of someone not only monopolizing the armrest and the overhead bin, but the whole noise level around me, is truly anxiety-provoking.
Maybe I should petition the airlines to create a new category of passenger preferences — not vegetarian or kosher, but “does not fly well with others.” The flight attendants could only communicate with me via hand signals, any passenger who dramatically reclines her seat into my lap without warning will automatically be moved to another part of the plane, and it goes without saying (of course!) that cell phone use would be strictly forbidden within an eight seat radius. Well, a girl can dream. In the absence of these demands being met, I might settle for Joe’s suggestion that inflight callers be confined to a special sound-proof booth in the back of the plane, leaving only loud snorers and upset children to disturb the silence up front.
But that seems unlikely, given how airlines are trying to cram in as many Economy seats as possible (which doesn’t do much for my personal space issue) because of the economic crunch they are facing. In his recent “Ask the Pilot” column on Salon.com, Patrick Smith bemoans this development, but argues that better design could solve both the airlines’ need for more seats, and the passenger’s need for a private, comfortable space. As an example of this, he mentions a new project that Delta will be inaugurating in 2010. The airline is planning to retrofit some of its fleet with something called the Cozy Suite, a type of seat with a built-in wraparound wall that separates it from the seat beside it, in addition to providing other elements that contribute to passenger comfort (footrest, lumbar cushion, more legroom). You can see photos of the Cozy Suite on the Thompson Solutions Web site.
I agree with Smith that this could be a significant improvement to the inflight experience, and it might even balance out my potential future annoyance with obnoxious cellphone users. Well, on second thought, maybe not. I think I should start looking for someone to build me my own personal (portable) Cone of Silence.