On flying misery, and the death of the last mobile-free remnant

After so much talking about authorising mobile phone use on board, it seems that under new rules, the European Commission has cleared the way for an air nightmare.

Last time I was meddling about with my BlackBerry on board (all connections off, as any rule abiding citizen would do), an Iberia air hostess made me feel like a schoolboy bin Laden when ordered me to switch off my mobile phone since I was ‘putting everybody’s life at risk, interfering with the plane’s communications system’. The fact that I was on a window seat and she told me off from the corridor, two rows away, let’s say that didn’t make me the most popular fellow passenger on the flight.

I have been ever so suspicious of that theory. If so, why mobile phones are not banned of airports? It sounded like ever more claptrap coming from the nanny agent of the day. Like when the UK Government ran the campaign trying to convince us that when purchasing pirate DVDs from a Chinese girl we were de facto funding terrorist groups in the Far-East. How preposterous. 19 men and years of training to take down the World Trade Center towers and a couple of GSM mobiles would have done the trick… because they were just taking off, weren’t they?

I remember that flight into Gatwick when the nervous Italian teenager by my side kept asking me about life in the world’s boiling pot while texting back and forth on her Nokia. Well, we didn’t die that day, and no air hostess cared about her wrongdoing.

As any average commuter will share with me, I always thought that the reason behind not being able to use mobile phones on board was no other than, in Aretha Franklin’s words, ‘R, E, S, P, E, C, T… respect’. Respect to travel mates who aren’t the slightest interested in where exactly you are going (we already know, we are in the plane with you), what you are going to do over there or how burdensome was security at Stanstead (we also suffered and are already trying to forget about it, thanks for reminding us).

But no, as implausible as it might seem to the rational mind, apparently we were just banned the use of mobile communications in the air, because it was not regulated.

For shareholders, the air industry was an investment accident waiting to happen. Sky high oil prices, competition, regulations, security issues, 19,000 bags sent to Milan for sorting (you know you are really in trouble when you need the organisational skills of the Italians), trade unions and the like. US Government helps dying pterodactyls survive over end over again and the EU opens the door to new profit sources but warns the airlines ‘to keep the cost of calls made on planes at a reasonable level’, as said by Viviane Reding, the EU telecoms commissioner.

It seems, dear Hobbes, that the Commission has reached its conclusion after six months of consultation by the European regulator. Beware, the first services could launch next month. Did they ask you? They didn’t ask me either, and I haven’t heard of anybody who’s been asked whether s/he would like to fly surrounded by people on their mobiles. It is annoying enough when you want to sleep and the couple behind you will not shut up, imagine if everybody in the plane’s on the line with their other half.

But hey! Who are we, customers, to complain? After all, I am pretty sure that soon there will be options and extra charges for those who want to join a mobile-free flight or even better, sit on the mobile-free section of the plane.

Until tomorrow,



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