Stop Freaking Out About Phone Calls on Planes

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 12 2013 6:15 PM

Stop Freaking Out About Phone Calls on Planes Stop Freaking Out About Phone Calls on Planes Stop Freaking Out About Phone Calls on Planes

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Keep the government off our in-flight norms.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

The FCC is reconsidering the ban on cellphone use on airplanes, which was immediately met with action by the Department of Transportation to potentially re-ban them on consumer protection grounds.

Before the DOT acts, I think a deep breath is in order. The following things are currently legal in the United States of America:

  • Talking on your cellphone in the movie theater
  • Carrying on a loud conversation with the person next to you on a plane
  • Showing up at a fine dining restaurant with shorts, flip-flops, and no shirt
  • Yelling "Hey, man, f*** you!" at your bartender
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It would be very annoying if these things happened frequently. And yet even in the absence of government regulation, they generally don't happen. Precisely because they are annoying, there are norms against doing these things. But more to the point, the state is not the sole purveyor of behavioral rules. You'll get kicked out of the movie theater if you talk on your phone. Airlines don't ban conversations with fellow passengers, but if you carry on at unreasonable volume you'll be shushed by your seatmates and eventually by the flight attendants. Life goes on.

We are strong enough to survive this freedom. Either people will use their cellphones sparingly and in a considerate manner, or else airlines will move to ban their use as a matter of corporate policy. The DOT can focus on its real job.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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