Why won’t they allow cell phones on planes?

by on April 9, 2007 at 5:58 am in Economics | Permalink

Notice that this post is filed under "Economics."

The airlines fear "crowd control" problems if cell phones are allowed
in flights.  They believe cell phone calls might promote rude behavior
and conflict between passengers, which flight attendants would have to
deal with.  The airlines also benefit in general from passengers
remaining ignorant about what’s happening on the ground during flights,
including personal problems, terrorist attacks, plane crashes and other
information that might upset passengers.

This is also relevant:

However, the airlines know that some kind of plane-to-ground
communication is coming, and they want to profit from it.  Simply
allowing passengers to use their own cell phones in flight would leave
the airlines out of the profit-taking.  Airlines would prefer that
phones be banned while they come up with new ways to charge for
communication, such as the coming wave of Wi-Fi access.  Meanwhile, the
ban is potentially more profitable.

Here is more.

ben April 9, 2007 at 8:00 am

I don’t think the economics of flight allow people enough personal space to talk on cell phones, there is already enough subtle fighting over arm rests, now imagine three in a row people trying to talk over each other and engine noise. I also don’t think “phone sections” would be very easy to implement, getting everyone on the plane already seems hard enough.

One random thought, I have never seen anyone use one of the phones built into the back of a seat. I wonder if this early failed attempt to embrace technology has impacted the implementation of personal comfort technology on airplanes. I can’t wait for the day when we have our own standard electrical output, although I think it will take new generations of aircraft.

DK April 9, 2007 at 9:18 am

if airplanes do this, why don’t restaurants offer cell phone valets? they confiscate your cell phone at the door, but notify you for a $10 fee if you get an important call.

it would be a greated customer benefit than charging $10 to park your car…

js April 9, 2007 at 9:55 am

sounds a like a bootleggers and baptists story.

Kevin April 9, 2007 at 10:29 am

I can imagine a situation where one airline allows people to use cellphones, and the others follow. How much of a profit making opportunity is there when there are other airlines competing for price and customers?

How much do people value the ability to have a phone conversation, and how much do other people value silence?

Santa April 9, 2007 at 11:04 am

That makes complete sense until you recall that the instruction is to switch off cell phones and electronics during takeoff and landing, the two times when you would expect not to have a violent altercation and seat belts would be in play anyway.

The deal is that with unlimited brands from unlimited manufacturers under unlimited FCC-type regulations, an airline cannot be sure that all electronics will not interfere with other radio waves in the plane.

The chance of interference can be rounded to 0 in millions but where the risk is 300+ passengers there is no reason not to ban cell phones.

The reason is that someone having a call that (a) couldn’t be made before boarding or after exiting the plane and (b) absolutely needs to be made exclusively during the duration is a lower 0 in the millions probability.

jp April 9, 2007 at 1:07 pm

I like DK’s way of thinking. We need a low-transaction-cost way for people who want to talk on the phone to reach agreements with their neighbors who want quiet.

I hate listening to people on cell phones, but I would feel fairly compensated if I received at least $1 for every minute that someone next to me or immediately in front of or behind me spent on a cell phone. I can’t think of a good way to facilitate that exchange, however.

Michael B Sullivan April 9, 2007 at 6:56 pm

My only problem with the cell-phone prohibition is that my cell is also my only time-piece, and I sometimes care about what time it is.

However, my blood pressure does rise a little when flight attendents claim to me that my ipod shuffle is a grave risk to airplain navigation.

doctorpat April 9, 2007 at 10:46 pm

The problem can be solved in 3 simple words:
“text messages only”.

Of course you will need a ban on phones that beep every time you push a button. These can be confiscated along with any children’s toys that also beep. Then the phones (and toys) can be ejected from the plane at 35 000 ft to the cheers of the other passengers.

Xellos April 10, 2007 at 8:26 pm

Saxdrop,

It’s plausible, but it’s not the complete story. Basically, the problem is that putting your antenna (the cell phone) up higher gives it a greater range thanks to the greater unobstructed line-of-sight. So, if the cell phone has a reasonably strong transmitter, it could be in range of, say, 40 towers instead of the more usual 4. Thanks to the way cell phones work as far as keeping the transmission active when you move between cells, they have to talk, at some level, with all the ones in range.

However, the cell phone protocols provide for this. There’s limits on how many towers you can connect to at once, and the towers can simply ignore cell phones that are trying to connect to too many. The towers do talk to each other, since you don’t want the “same” cell phone to be connected to two towers on opposite sides of the city at once. So, in implementation, this isn’t actually a problem.

Of course, how many cell phones have ranges that allow them to get connections at 30,000 feet may be another question all together…

Lucky April 17, 2007 at 1:09 pm

Thats nice to share the views every one here. Get more info about what medical physicians around the world are saying about the effects of cell phones and electromagnetic frequencies.For more information http://www.harmonicplanet.com

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