Sunday, February 20, 2005

If Silence is Golden, Better Buy Stock in Silver

From my traveling colleague Randy Wambold...

I'm not as frequent a business traveler as some I know (no complaints here mind you), but I do have occasion to travel on business fairly regularly. Since my client is based in the Valley in California, many of my trips are long, cross-country flights.

Flying offers many challenges. Some are general to all travelers (delays, red eye flights and bad airplane food). Some, however, are more particular to some of us than others. For example, as a 6'2" person I detest being folded into a space that makes the front seat of my car look cavernous. Thus I really dislike it when the people in front of me recline their seats, further encroaching on what precious little space I have. For those of you seat recliners reading (you know who you are), I beg of you to consider sleeping in a more upright position. If consideration of others' personal space doesn't sway you, consider the practical benefits: if you learn to sleep upright in a plane, you'll be able to do it in meetings, in cars (as a passenger of course), in movie theaters.. the possibilities are endless! Scant portions of food are another particular challenge to those of us with healthy appetites. In my carry-on bag for every flight is a laptop, a water, a book -- and about a dozen Power Bars.

For all its challenges, I do feel that flying offers at least one advantage in the form of a little uninterrupted peace and quiet. In the world we live in, with cell phones ringing, email pouring in and PDAs enabling anytime, anywhere access, I for one admit that there is something refreshing about all of the aforesaid being inoperable on planes. Thus for all of its challenges, flying offers a brief hiatus from the persistent din that surrounds us all. This is particularly true for those of us who are parents, for whom the opportunity to sit in relative quiet and work, or read a book, or flip through a magazine, or sleep, or even just think, is particularly enjoyable.

This bubble is about to be popped in a dramatic way, however. Today I read that Airbus SAS, the European plane manufacturer, plans to give customers of its new planes cell phone access. I suppose I always knew it was coming. But with this announcement, I see my occasional respite on a plane turning into a nightmare.

Based on the general demeanor of people you've been exposed to using cell phones in public places -- if your experience is anything like mine, this consists largely of people speaking in shockingly loud voices on irritatingly mundane topics -- how do you feel about the prospect of being strapped to a seat with nowhere to go whilst 20 people within 15 feet of you carry on simultaneous phone conversations? Let's say you get one of the hated middle of the row seats -- how do you feel about people to your left and right talking on their cell phones, each literally 12 inches from both of your ears? What if you board the dreaded red eye (as I often do), hoping to grab five or six hours of fitful, uncomfortable sleep, only to discover that your seat mate is a loud-talking night owl who decides to make two hours of calls from 1:00 a.m. until 3:00 a.m.?

I know that I'm fighting the inevitable. For one, cell phone access gives the beleaguered airline industry a much needed additional revenue stream. For another, I know I'm badly outnumbered in my plea for a little quiet and privacy by those who see in-the-air cell phone access as a great idea.

But even if I'm in a minority, I hereby make my plea for keeping planes a last bastion of respite from cell phone madness.

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