How Much Would You Pay for a Quiet Flight?

A plane comes in for a landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) at dusk November 1, 2013. Earlier in the day a gunman opened fire with an assault rifle inside the airport, killing a security agent, creating scenes of chaos and causing widespread flight disruptions. 
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Dec. 16, 2013, 4:08 p.m.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4630) }}

Ma­lika Be­gum is one of those people you’re afraid of.

Be­gum is a con­sult­ant who flies about eight times a month; she hates los­ing work time while in flight and wishes she could talk on her phone at 30,000 feet. “For people like me, we need to be in touch with oth­er people all the time. It’s a very good con­veni­ence to have,” she said Fri­day while rush­ing her way through Re­agan Na­tion­al Air­port.

In­deed, Be­gum says she’d pay an ex­tra $20 per flight for phone priv­ileges.

An­drew Mar­shall says he’d pay $300 not to hear her — or any­one else — dur­ing his time in the sky. For Mar­shall, a Navy seni­or chief petty of­ficer fresh off a flight home from South­east Asia, the pro­spect of cell phones in­ter­rupt­ing his peace of mind pro­voked a vis­cer­al re­ac­tion.

But Mar­shall’s bid­ding war with Be­gum may not al­ways be hy­po­thet­ic­al. After the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion opened the door last week to end­ing the in-flight call ban, FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er sug­ges­ted air­lines set their policies “in con­sulta­tion with their cus­tom­ers.”

Sev­er­al fly­ers in­ter­viewed by Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily said they would con­sider pay­ing an ex­tra fee to use their phone — or to avoid oth­ers who do. And when pas­sen­gers are will­ing to pay for something, air­lines have a long track re­cord of find­ing a way to charge them.

“I’d pay 50 to 100 bucks more to be in the “˜quiet car,’ “ said Brent Reyn­olds, who travels fre­quently to sell hats and out­er­wear for his com­pany. “I don’t want to be there with a lot of people yakking loudly.”

“If prices were sim­il­ar, that might be a de­cider,” said Shauna Crane, who works for Utah State Uni­versity and flies a couple of times a month. She prefers watch­ing movies on her iPad dur­ing flight, not listen­ing to phone con­ver­sa­tions.

Polls show that most fly­ers would prefer calls re­main off-lim­its up in the air, as the pas­sen­ger cab­in of­fers a rare refuge from our hy­per-con­nec­ted lives. Whis­pers of any tam­per­ing with the off-the-grid etiquette im­me­di­ately strike fear in the hearts of most pas­sen­gers wor­ried that their sac­red haven could go the way of the movie theat­er or train car, where tele­phon­ic in­ter­rup­tions are all too com­mon.

It’s enough to make Mar­shall, the Navy of­ficer, cringe. And pre­dict vi­ol­ence.

“There would be more in-flight in­stances where people would be get­ting in­to fights,” Mar­shall said while hold­ing his 1-year-old son next to the ter­min­al’s two-story Christ­mas tree. “I know for a fact. An 11-hour, 12-hour flight, you get pretty an­noyed. You’re tired, and it’s just bad busi­ness, in my opin­ion.”

Be­gum, the con­sult­ant, was sur­prised to learn people like Mar­shall have voiced such strong op­pos­i­tion, though she con­cedes some calls would be more ap­pro­pri­ate than oth­ers. “Your moth­er’s dy­ing, you have a very im­port­ant cli­ent call, you should be able to an­swer,” Be­gum of­fers. “But if it’s chat­ting away about your week­end plans, I feel like that can wait.”

Mar­shall con­tends no call is so im­port­ant that it can’t wait un­til land­ing. “Fly to Ja­pan and back and tell me how fruit­ful of an event that is,” he groans.

If bid­ding wars are the fu­ture, reg­u­lat­ory battles are the present.

The FCC’s 3-2 vote last week to be­gin a pub­lic-com­ment pro­cess that could change in-flight phone rules sparked a quick back­lash. The De­part­ment of Trans­port­a­tion said it will con­sider seek­ing its own ban to pro­tect con­sumers, and law­makers are already tout­ing new le­gis­la­tion that would achieve the same res­ult.

Ini­ti­ation of the com­ment peri­od, however, does not mean the FCC has made up its mind. Be­fore fin­ish­ing any new rule, the agency has sev­er­al oth­er pro­ced­ur­al hurdles that will take months — and pos­sibly even years — to re­solve.

What We're Following See More »
Trump Jr. Meeting with GOP Members
7 hours ago
US Nukes Rely on Decades-Old Tech
7 hours ago
Eleven States Sue Administration Over Transgender Bathroom Access
10 hours ago

The great restroom war of 2016 continues apace, as eleven states have sued the Obama administration in federal court, claiming its federal guidance on how schools should accommodate transgender students "has no basis in law." "The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on behalf of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The lawsuit argues that the federal government has worked to turn workplaces and schools 'into laboratories for a massive social experiment.'"

Puerto Rico Debt Bill Passes House Committee
10 hours ago

By a 29-10 vote, the House Natural Resources Committee today passed the bill to allow Puerto Rico to restructure its $70 billion in debt. The legislation "would establish an oversight board to help the commonwealth restructure its un-payable debt and craft an economic recovery plan."

Wyden Bill Would Make Nominees’ Tax Disclosures Mandatory
10 hours ago

"Though every major party nominee since 1976 has released his tax returns while running for president, the practice has never been required by law. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) wants to change that. The senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which handles tax issues, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would force presidential candidates to release their most recent tax returns. The Presidential Tax Transparency Act, as the bill is called, would require candidates to make their latest three years of tax returns public no later than 15 days after becoming the nominee."