Posts tagged “air rage”

FreshMeat #24: Push to Talk

FreshMeat #24 from Steve Portigal

               (oo) Fresh
                \\/  Meat 

Last night I dreamt I read FreshMeat again
Telephone line, give me some time

The cell phone continues to be a surprisingly
prominent item in our public discourse. The idea of the
phone exists on multiple simultaneous fronts:

– a technology platform for multimedia (i.e., camera
phones and text messaging)

– an economic booster (ringtones, just the latest flavor
in mobile merchandising are big bucks, perhaps even a
legit solution to the problem of music sharing)

– a designed accessory that displays economic and social
status (or at least aspirations thereof) – check out
Bling Kit for cell phones, including Swarovski
crystals, the rhinestones of the new millennium

– a performance item to either facilitate or impede
social interaction (just when we were beginning to get
used to the handsfree users who appear to walk around
talking to no one, the New York Times reports on a
supposedly emerging behavior where people use their
phones to avoid face-to-face interactions, making
like they are talking to someone – but are really
talking to no one)

– a challenge to unstated but powerful social norms (in
one of many examples, a man got out of his car and
punched another driver who was talking on his phone
instead of moving when the light turned green)

This last area is seeing an unusual amount of activity
recently, as the powers-that-be are exploring the
possibility of using cell phones on airplanes. The
airplane is a space that has had strict controls on cell
phone usage, and as changes to those controls are slowly
being considered, the debate is growing. This is fairly
unique in the history of the cell phone – it wasn’t until
they began appearing (and ringing) in hospitals and
movie theaters and concert halls and libraries and
trains and restaurants and classrooms and places of
worship and banks that rules intended to control use
began to appear. Belatedly, signs are posted, threats
are made, and consideration of others is urged. But I
think most of us have given up on reliably avoiding
annoying or disruptive ringing and talking.

Virgin territory – using your cell phone on an
airplane – has now appeared, and the battle lines are
being drawn. If you’ve heard about this issue, you’ve
probably heard some strong opinions being expressed.
If not, when you first consider the possibility of
in-flight cell phone usage, what comes to mind? Being
reachable throughout your trip, or the horrifyingly
likely possibility of a loud-mouthed doofus bellowing
details of his root canal all the way to JFK? I’ll bet
that it’s the latter; the careful balance begins to tilt
between i) the benefit to us for access to the phone and
ii) the cost to us for others having access to their

Of course, there are more players involved than just us
and the doofus in the middle seat. Technologies/products
are part of larger systems, and any changes are going to
impact each element of that system in a different way.
Careful consideration of the different players is
essential to fully understand the drivers for change,
the barriers, and the potential impacts. For this issue,
let’s take a look at who’s who:

A. passengers making and/or receiving calls
B. passengers who are not making or receiving calls
C. flight attendants
D. airlines
E. airplane manufacturers
F. wireless carriers (i.e., Verizon, Cingular)
G. infrastructure players (i.e., whoever enables this
new technological capability)
H. handset manufacturers
I. government

Let’s look at each of them in turn:

A. passengers making and/or receiving calls

There are already phones on board the plane. People can
make calls while flying. Using cell phones would
enable passengers to receive calls. All the features
of the handset (i.e., phone book) would be available.
These are both powerful symbols of greater personal
control. The travel experience often entails a
significant surrender of control, even of the most
basic functions (time and choices of food, sleep
schedules, access to a bathroom), so whatever people
can do to reassert that control will have some appeal.

A parallel example might be the payphone; in
metropolitan areas payphones were ubiquitous, yet cell
phone adoption grew enormously and the payphone
continues to fade away. Individual control over the
device itself triumphed “good enough” access.

The ability to make and receive calls (even if these
passengers seldom or never take advantage of that
ability) is a big win for these folks, although there
has not been a lot of impassioned demand for this from
the public.

Conclusion: benefit of new capability

B. passengers who are not making or receiving calls

The loss of control we experience while traveling comes
not only from the circumstances of travel, but also the
intrusion of other people – who we can not control –
into our lives, spaces, and faces. “The screaming baby,”
“the drunken boor,” and “the snoring fat guy” are well-
established archetypes for comedy routines and reality

A tangible manifestation of the control issue was
obvious in last year’s Knee Defender, a product that
would enable you to prevent the person in front of you
from leaning their seat back into “your” space. The
suggestion here was that you could physically over-ride
the conventions of the airplane (you may lean; you may
also be leaned into) and that was okay. More power to
you, for taking whatever control you could, even at the
expense of others.

Our experiences with others who use their cell phones
around us (during our non-travel times) are poorly
regarded. Anyone reading this can probably come up with
their most recent horror story in less than 5 seconds.
Giving other people the power to further disrespect our
personal space and surrender control over our environment
while traveling seems to be a potential for even more
unhappy traveling (even though there is significant
overlap between group A and group B), and the amount of
public grumbling about this potential bears witness to

Conclusion: cost of annoyance

C. flight attendants

No doubt that any new regulations would require some
sort of new monitoring role by the flight attendants.
Passengers that can do more with more devices now are
more independent and need more attention, i.e., making
sure that cell phones are only on during certain
portions of the flight, making sure that passengers talk
at a reasonable volume or set their ringers to vibrate.
Whatever it is, it’s going to require more work from
them. Perhaps they may benefit from access to their
phones during breaks, but the increase in their work
makes this mostly a loss for them.

Conclusion: cost of extra work

D. airlines

Current airplane phones add two inches to the thickness
of the seatback. Removing those phones would allow more
seats to be installed, or perhaps make room for
entertainment equipment such as the TV screens that
JetBlue offers as standard amenities.

One would also expect that whatever technology enables
on-board cell phone usage would be something they could
charge an extra fee for. It may even be a feature of how
the technology is developed, to provide a fee-for-access
gateway (just like WiFi access at some coffee shops).

The existing phones may remain on board; as long he
boarding process. Already the rules begin to be changed.
Once you get to the seatback card (labeled a “guide to
how to make the world a better place…one flight at a
time.”) you may begin to consider the flight experience
differently. The card reads “Be nice. Attitude is
everything on JetBlue. Kindness, respect and
consideration are the way to a nice flight.” Amusing
graphics that evoke traditional flight safety cards
depict passengers creating a common experience, for
example introducing themselves to each other. Sure, many
of us do that on a plane, but JetBlue takes some
ownership of it, and encourages it, with just enough
humor. Other graphics discourage people from bringing
their own smelly fish on board, or sleeping on the
shoulder of their neighbor, or removing their shoes when
their feet are too pungent.

JetBlue (and some of the other newer, more innovative,
and interestingly cheaper airlines) are rethinking the
entire experience they are creating for passengers. A
fresh look at air travel won’t eliminate turbulence, of
course, but they could easily extend this to help people
manage their behavior. Rather than a turf war over
knees, shoulders, ears, and mouths, creating a common
experience could encourage cooperation, establish new
social norms (and social sanctions rather than punitive
ones) that would allow for polite cell phone usage.
Sure, I’m skeptical too. Adding some verbiage to the
pre-flight announcement and posting a few stickers isn’t
going to do it. A new approach to creating a
relationship between the passengers and the airline, and
between the passengers themselves is the key. The
dinosaur airlines aren’t capable of this (i.e., United’s
Ted is a cheaper United, with better graphic design;
it’s not a re-think of the flight experience the way
JetBlue is).

Two thoughts by way of conclusion here: first, with any
new offering, if we fail to understand the differing
concerns of the larger set of stakeholders, we run the
risk of limiting our success; second, if there is a way
to encourage desired behavior rather than enforce
restrictions on undesired behavior, that may be the way
to greater success. We’re trying this strategy with our
dog, in fact.

This discussion is all about voice. Other work is being
done to enable WiFi on airplanes; presumably the cell
network could also transmit data to allow email or
Internet surfing, but that seems peripheral to the
issues at hand. Laptop users on board airplanes with
high-speed Internet access can now do VOIP (voice-over-
IP, or Internet telephony) but right now that’s a
smaller, bleeding-edge type of user unlikely to have the
type of impact we’re considering.

Is it actually dangerous to use today’s phones on
today’s planes? This is one report that documents
the effects of mobile phones on avionic (isn’t
that a great word?) gear. But other studies have
said it’s not a problem. Hence the complicated
governmental role – between communications (FCC)
and aviation (FAA). Sure, there’s reason to be
skeptical, compare the supposed danger of using
a cell phone at a gas station
, which even led to
proposed legislation in some US states.

See Don Norman’s recent essay Minimizing the annoyance
of the mobile phone – The Annoyance, Irritation, and
Frustration of The Mobile Phone — A Design Challenge

Excerpt: "We are in real danger of a consumer backlash
against annoying technologies. We already have seen the
growth of mobile-phone free zones, of prohibition
against phone use, camera use, camera phones, in all
sort of public and private places. The mobile phone has
been shown to be a dangerous distraction to the driver
of an automobile, whether hands-free or not. If we do
nothing to overcome these problems, then the benefits
these technologies bring may very well be denied us
because the social costs are simply too great."


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