Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fly the friendly skies

Despite uncomfortable seats, annoying people, crowded airports, security hassles, lost luggage and terrible customer service, air travel is something I look forward to these days. For a few glorious hours every couple of weeks, I am in a place where not a single person can get a hold of me.

There is something inherently wrong in the world when the boundaries between professional and personal time are so blurred that booking a flight is the only means of escape, but I will take what I can get. Life in our super-connected always on-call world is not likely to change unless we all change our attitudes. Without a complete shift in the work/life ethic in the United States, the airplane might remain our last oasis from the office. This refuge is threatened as the FAA and airlines deliberate on whether to allow cell phone usage in flight. While experts are citing the safety concerns of cell phones usage, I argue there is more than issues on safety that should keep airplanes phone free. With airplanes as the last safe haven on earth from cell phone overload, airlines are performing a public service of sorts, giving individuals the opportunity to shut off rather than fielding incoming questions, participating in conference calls or listening to a seatmate talk about their latest crisis.

Disconnecting from the phone in flight is also important for connecting with people outside the usual comfort zone. Somehow the smaller the globe becomes, the less people interact with each other. We are more likely to chat with a person across the world on the internet than actually reach out and touch someone right next to you. Air travel offers a unique opportunity to meet a cross section of humanity outside your everyday circle and network with new people. This practice would be threatened if everyone was engaged in conversations with those on the ground.

Flying one million or so miles has allowed me to meet some of the most fascinating people; philanthropists, artists, novelists, engineers, politicians, musicians, motivational speakers, pilots, preachers, patients, doctors, soldiers, actors, executives and students to name a few. Although the “relationships” were solely based on sharing a row and feigning boredom, each one of these people opened up a world previously unknown, engaged in thoughtful conversation and made the time fly by. It is easy to go everyday and surround yourself with only people who share your opinions, understand your career, know your friends and accept your beliefs, unless you are on an airplane. No other place forces you to turn-off your normal world and potentially open a new one quite like a commercial flight.


Amy said...

As someone who flies almost weekly, like you, I cherish those few hours a week where I'm in flight and can't be reached by anyone via email, cell phone, or instant message.

When I see the urgency of turning on cell phone and checking Blackberries right after a plane touches down and the noise that ensues, that's when I know being able to take or make calls in flight is absolutely the worst thing that could happen. I hate listening to my own conference calls - why would I want to listen in on tens of others?

When I consulted at the company you now work for, I couldn't even *do* work on the plane for fear of breaking our confidentiality agreement. What happens to confidentiality and possible competitive edge when conference calls are allowed in such close proximity for everyone to listen in on?

(If you can't tell, I'm pretty passionate about this subject and rue the day phone calls are allowed in flight. I think planes should be reconfigured to have small phone rooms for those people who absolutely need to make or take calls, and they should be charged extra. That way no one's bothered!)

Husband said...

"Somehow the smaller the globe becomes, the less people interact with each other. We are more likely to chat with a person across the world on the internet than actually reach out and touch someone right next to you."

This is incredibly insightful. The use of cell phones and other communication devices has nearly killed small talk in public places... except for the airplane. I agree with Amy that airlines should create specfic space for phones, and charge for it! That's one stupid airline charge I can get behind!!!

blondebombchelle said...

I really think the cell phone (and the internet) has created a generation (or two) of socially awkward individuals who are unable to strike up a conversation around them. There is going to be a real problem (properly) filling certain positions within organizations that require that skillset... sales, presentations, etc.

Alex said...

I don't know that I agree wholly with the sentiment that we're regressing from small-talk. I think that for those who are already socially awkward that the internet/phones/etc are a way to further escape having to have that interaction, and that could be a detriment to them... But by the same token, I think we all still know people who are 'natural' salesmen: just plain charismatic people, and I've seen plenty of kids in my job who definitely fit that bill, despite having cell phones that they flip open at the end of the school day. Heh.

That said. Yes, please keep the phones off the planes. Put them in the separate room where families have to sit. :)

Ali said...

I am totally in agreement Chelle. Now that I am not flying as much these days, I've turned my attention to the hell that would be my commute if MTA decided to provide reception on New York City subways. The inane conversations that take place when the F is above ground for 2 stops is overwhelming enough. Luckily the constant fear and focus on security means that this is unlikely to happen. Otherwise, I may have to buy a car.