The scary thought of in-flight cell phone use

Flight Attendant with an Oxygen MaskThe Wall Street Journal interviewed me and some of my etiquette consultant colleagues for an article on the etiquette of cell phone usage on airplanes. As you may have read the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering allowing airline passengers use their cell phones in flight.

Since being interviewed for the article the FCC has gotten so much negative feedback on the possible rule reversal that they are reconsidering making the change. It seems that even though more and more people are digitally dependent, the thought of having a 100 or so strangers sitting in close proximity yacking about everything and nothing is downright distressing. And despite how much we dislike when people talk on their phones in public places you know all that downtime will beckon people to pick up their phones and inanely talk to whomever they can reach. Think also of the cacophony of cell phone ringers going off as you try to read a book, focus on a work project or catch a few zzzs.

For the sake of our sanity, I hope that the FCC decides not to allow cell phone use on planes. But, if they do, it will be more important than ever to follow cell phone etiquette.

To begin with think long and hard about how necessary it is to talk on the phone. You’ll be sitting six inches away from complete strangers. Do you really want them to hear personal and possibly intimate or confidential details about your life or your business?

If you must have that phone conversation, keep it short and keep your voice down, I mean really down.

Try to text versus talk whenever possible.

Do not share anything you don’t want others to hear, or that they don’t want to hear. Sorry, the exploits of your drunken Saturday night are not interesting to anyone. I guarantee it. And, be very careful about sharing anything business related. It’s simply too easy to end up sharing confidential information when you’re absorbed in a conversation.

Keep your phone on vibrate if you really must answer your phone. No one wants to hear dozens of Hello Moto or bodily function ringtones throughout the flight. Oy, the thought of it makes me cringe.

This situation calls for the Golden Rule more than any other etiquette circumstances. Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you. If hearing a bunch of people droning on about who cares what right next to you would annoy you, don’t do it yourself.

What do you think about cell phone use on planes? Is it an idea whose time has come or something you hope is never allowed? And, if the FCC does decide to allow it what etiquette tips would you add?


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. BethBuelow on November 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I’m so glad you wrote about this, Arden, and that you are advocating for no-to-very-limited cell phone use on planes during flights. The thought of being held captive by a seatmate’s conversation (or anyone within a row or two around me) is just appalling. Texting is fine; it really doesn’t need to go beyond that. And if someone absolutely can’t wait to make a voice call, your suggestions are welcome. I’d add: keep the conversation as short as possible. 5 minutes max. 
    It’s great if the FCC says yes to texting or email from our phones during flights, but I sincerely hope they nix the idea of allowing voice calls. It’s just not necessary.

  2. ArdenClise on November 26, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    BethBuelow I agree Beth. I think most people would throw a fit if the FCC and then airlines allowed people to talk on their phones during flights. I could see texting or emailing, but what happens if the phone rings? I guess the airlines would have to request that people silence or put their phones on vibrate during the flight. That way we’re not inundated with rings, buzzs and beeps throughout the flight.

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