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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Is Talking on Airplanes Noise Pollution?

The social rules for appropriate cell phone use in confined spaces such are still developing. Jagdish Bhagwati, professor of economics and law at Columbia University, has a clear opinion of what the rules should be on airplanes:

Fight the mobile phone invasion at 30,000ft, by Jagdish Bhagwati, Financial Times: Our right to peace and quiet is guaranteed by fining taxi drivers from India who honk as they drive: a habit acquired through years of dodging cycles, cows, cars and the carefree in the crowded streets of Calcutta and Karachi. Flights are not allowed to land in Washington DC beyond late evening... Yet, noise pollution, practised with abandon in your face and in your ears, is tolerated in enclosed spaces in buses, trains, restaurants and cinemas and is spreading like bird flu...

The final straw in the US ... is the impending decision to allow the use of mobile phones on flights. In this way, loud passengers will be free to jabber away in a closed cabin, saying “hi” to Joey, Joel and Josie at home just for the heck of it, or conducting their business, which is no concern of yours, by public declamation. What can be done if the US Federal Aviation Administration allows this madness to happen...? [W]e are not out of remedies.

Consider what you can do in the aircraft cabin itself. Before the Good Samaritans came down on smoking, I had a friend who was so annoyed by the smoke getting into his eyes in restaurants... that he carried a little Sanyo fan that would blow the smoke back into their startled faces. While the stewardesses would not let you turn on a CD player at loud volume to drown out the mobile phone users, how about screaming into your own phone (without, of course, actually dialing and paying) ... This is worth a try. But frankly, how long and how often can such ridicule and retaliatory noise-making be sustained, without unleashing a competition in steadily higher octaves, one which the vulgar freaks you are trying to drown out are likely to win? A more effective remedy has to be a collective, legal response. How about encouraging environmental and human rights groups to file lawsuits against the agencies that grant the permission for the use of mobile phones in flight, and against the airlines when they act on such permission? ...

But what of the rights of the mobile phone users? These are more frivolous than those of the fellow passengers on whom they impose. Besides, the airlines can readily accommodate their desire to talk ... Mobile phone users should be provided, at an extra cost charged to their tickets, with a phone booth at which they can queue for their turn. That would protect their rights without invading ours.

The smoking ban on all flights came along when the science behind the problem of secondary harm from smoking became well-established. But this harm ... can also be mental. The stress of ... an enclosed space with continuous noise is sufficient to produce high blood pressure, fatigue and other ailments... It is still not completely clear whether continual emission of radiation from the use of mobile phones on flights could cause secondary brain damage to fellow passengers. If providence were just, it would surely affect the brains of the users. But who believed at first that cigarettes could hurt the smoker’s own family?

So, perhaps the compelling answer may be to threaten the mobile phone companies themselves with ultimate liability, reminding them of the cigarette manufacturers who eventually faced huge financial damages. Eventual retribution could be the most powerful deterrent to the rising spectre of cellular noise.

It would be hard to work, sleep, etc. with the person next to me jabbering on the phone, but what is different about them talking on a cell phone as opposed to talking to the person in the seat next to them or to someone across the aisle? I don't see the distinction. [dual post]

    Posted by on Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 01:46 PM in Economics, Environment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (9)


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