The day is coming when the last refuge of serenity -- the aircraft cabin -- will become polluted with ring tones and annoying conversations.
While making bothersome mile-high phone calls on U.S. carriers still requires approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission, it is widely expected to come sooner rather than later. That means it's time to educate passengers on when to talk -- and when to shut up.
Don't get me wrong. I'm usually enthusiastic about the confluence of flying and new technology. But I dread the day when I no longer hear my favorite inflight announcement: "Please turn off your cell phones."
Call me crazy, but I look forward to a few quiet hours on a plane. A time when I can read, listen to good music and -- most importantly -- decompress. Now technology is disconnecting one of the last cell-free zones on earth.
The momentum for this change is fueled by hard-charging business types with a need to stay connected. For them, a minute without their cell phone is a business meltdown.
Recently, on a 45-minute minute flight, the young hard-charger next to me chatted away on his phone. The proximity of our seats meant that I couldn't help but hear his obtrusive conversation, one consisting mainly of blabber.
But then, a beautiful thing happened: The aircraft door closed and the conversation stopped.
Until we landed. As soon as we touched down, he was back on the phone to find out if he had any messages. Then he asked to be transferred to a number of extensions until he found someone willing to carry on a seemingly incessant conversation.
For years, air passengers have been spared the yapping of cell phone users, thanks in no small part to fears that the wireless devices would interfere with a plane's navigation and communication systems. Newer phone technology may be less intrusive to a plane's systems, but it's no less obtrusive to the person sitting next to you.
If the current trend among cell phone users is any indication of what we can expect, the skies will soon be very noisy, and mild-mannered inducements to courtesy won't have much effect. A while back, a local library in Southern California imposed a $200 fine on patrons who disturbed its quiet areas. Fines from cell phones users soon increased the library's revenue 1000 percent.
I understand the convenience factor. It would be nice to use your cell phone in an emergency or for a high-priority call. But I'm not so important that someone calling me can't just leave a message. If I were, I suspect I would have my own private jet or a cadre of lieutenants handling my calls.
When I conducted an informal survey of passengers on a recent flight, I found that many travelers prize the cell-free zone. Among the most common comments: "It's nice to get away from the phone."
When cell phones take off -- and they will soon enough -- I hope my fellow passengers will remain mindful of their seatmates' need for solitude and peace. There's something about soaring high above the chatter and cares of the earthbound that just makes you want to be alone with your thoughts.

Joel Widzer

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