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Current as of 19/09/14 07:40PM NZST

Brian Rudman: Jibber-jabber better left at plane door

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Brian Rudman writes that Air New Zealand's move to allow cellphone usage on-board is bound to annoy.

You run the risk of having a loudmouth to either side of you, yelling down their cellphone. Photo / Thinkstock
You run the risk of having a loudmouth to either side of you, yelling down their cellphone. Photo / Thinkstock

There was a time when you dressed up to catch a plane. When airlines pampered you with hot towels and food came on crockery even in cattle class.

That was last century. Today it's all about shoe-horning in as many bodies as possible and distracting the victims with food trapped in cellophane wrappers that can't be opened by the plastic knives on offer.

And from next month, a dastardly new torture. The risk of a loudmouth to either side of you, yelling down their cellphone that they're on the plane and will be home soon and blah de blah de blah.

Air New Zealand's press release announcing passengers being able to use cellphones on their new A320 aircraft came at about the same time the Maori Party leadership announced it was suspending Hone Harawira from the party caucus.

Co-leader Pita Sharples confessed that after five years of Mr Harawira singing out of tune, his fellow caucus members just wanted a break from the discordant ear-bashing.

Anyone who's been trapped in a bus or a restaurant alongside someone prattling away on their cellphone will sympathise with Mr Sharples and his mates.

As for Air New Zealand, what are they thinking? Just because something is possible doesn't mean it's desirable, or customer friendly. A survey of Air New Zealand international passengers last year revealed opposition to such a service. The airline seems to have twisted that conclusion around to conclude it would be acceptable on short haul, domestic flights.

Perhaps they've done scientific studies to show neighbouring passengers will suffer in silence, or not turn on the offenders with the plastic cutlery, as long as the torture only goes on for an hour or so.

We'll see. Earlier this week, 100 passengers on a Ryanair flight about to leave from the Canary Islands mutinied over excess baggage charges inflicted on one among them. Could it be a sign that the sardines of the airline world have finally had enough?

In the United States, a study commissioned by the Association of Flight Attendants found 63 per cent of passengers opposed lifting cellphone restrictions on commercial flights, and that the strongest opposition came from frequent fliers, whose principal objection was the annoyance factor.

Of those polled, 70 per cent suggested separate "non-phone" seating sections if the cellphone use ban was lifted. Which takes us back to the smoking, non-smoking divisions that were in place when that particular addiction was still socially acceptable.

But just as smoke used to waft from the smoking sections into the rest of the cabin, so too, no doubt, will the voice of the cellphone shouter. What the airline should do, if it persists with this experiment, is to restrict the range of the new satellite phone link to a special enclosed phone booth, down amongst the toilets.

For Air New Zealand, it demonstrates a streak of unexpected masochism.

There was no obvious demand for the service. It's sure to annoy many more passengers than it will please and, by sticking to the official line that cellphone usage could interfere with the avionics and crash the plane, the existing policy had almost total buy-in from travellers. Now they risk crash by riot.

At a cost of $3.50 a minute, one can hope that idle chatterers will be deterred. Unfortunately, if travelling on the bus is any indication, the worst offenders are those using work-provided phones, ringing to announce they'll be in the office soon, requesting a secretary change an appointment and other such mindless waffle. To them, cost isn't an issue.

The idea of a pocket cellphone jammer is attractive and apparently they're widely available over the internet. But they are illegal, and even if they weren't, I'd be too scared of scrambling the plane's electronics and making matters even worse.

One suggestion worth trying, if you have the acting skills, is the coughing fit. At least you'll feel better afterwards for spreading your annoyance when the offender can't hear his caller and has to hang up.

In life these days, there are increasingly few cellphone-free zones left. Buses are a lost cause, and restaurants a losing battle. At the movies, texting and talking are something you have to put up with. Funerals seem to be safe, and, without suggesting any connection, so still are classical music concerts. Though you do get a stern reminder beforehand at the Town Hall to turn off your mobile devices.

There, the intrusion is patrons who can't last an hour without the need to suckle a wine glass or a water bottle.

Perhaps it's all part of the wave of attention deficit disorder and associated hyper-activity, said to be sweeping the developed world. Then again, it could be the result of bad potty training.

Whatever, it is odd that air passengers these days can't just sit still for an hour, admire the scenery, read a magazine or a book, and find it important not to annoy their neighbours. Hot towels anyone?

- NZ Herald

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