Galley Gossip: Cell phones on the airplane

Recently on Times Travel asked me who I thought the worst type of passenger was. I wrote, “a business class passenger who does not get an upgrade and ends up in coach.”

But not all business class passengers who end up in coach are bad. In fact, business class passengers are actually my favorite passengers. They know the drill. They know exactly what to expect. So there’s no “on my last flight…” or “what do you mean there aren’t any magazines or pillows?”

The truth is the worst type of passenger is the kind of passenger who thinks he/she travels often, but in reality he/she only travels a few times a year, which isn’t really all that often, not compared to frequent fliers today. Yet they have no problem letting me know just how often they fly (which isn’t all that often) when they’re doing something they shouldn’t be doing, something a frequent flier knows not to do, like use a cell phone after the flight attendant has made the announcement that it’s time to turn off and stow all electronic devices.

The following scenario actually took place on board one of my flights…
We’re on the tarmac in Chicago and the flight attendant is walking down the aisle while the safety video is on and she sees a passenger on his cell phone talking and says, “Sir, you need to turn your cell phone off!”

He tells whomever he’s talking to on the phone to hold on a minute, and then he covers the mouthpiece with his hand and asks the flight attendant, “what flight number is this?”

Shaking her head, the flight attendant says, “Sir, you can’t be on your phone right now! The safety video is on. You need to turn it off.” She points to the video monitor and it’s at that part where the guy in the suit reaches up and grabs the oxygen mask and places it over his nose and mouth, looking way too relaxed for a guy who has just placed an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth because he’s probably going through a decompression or something and should probably be hyperventilating along with the rest of us.

The man on the phone rolls his eyes and tells his friend to hold on again. Then he says to the flight attendant, “I JUST NEED TO KNOW THE FLIGHT NUMBER, MA’AM!”

My colleague tells him she doesn’t know the flight number, which could be true because half the time we really don’t know whether we’re coming or going due to the short layovers mixed with long work days spent hopping from one city to another. Not to mention the safety video is on and this guy should not be on the phone right now. At this point it doesn’t really matter what the flight number is.

“TURN IT OFF!” she demands, squinting her eyes, which makes her look a little crazy and has zero affect because he’s still on the phone and just looking at her as if it’s no big deal there’s a flight attendant screaming at him and looking all crazy-eyed.

Sighing, he tells his friend, “The flight attendant is not being very helpful. She’s putting a lot of stress on me.”

Of course this only makes her put even more stress on him. “TURN THE PHONE OFF NOW! I MEAN NOW! RIGHT NOW!” which not only makes him jump, but also works because he actually turns it off and puts it away.

When I shared the above story with a fellow coworker, he wrote…

This lack of compliance causes me concern for a couple of good reasons. First, it establishes that some passengers see flight attendant instructions as optional–and they’re mandatory. That mandatory aspect is for everyone’s safety in an emergency, and in order to be effective, that authority covers every instruction they give. Second, as a captain, I always weigh whether I want to take Mr. Optional-Instructions-Cell-Phone-Guy into the air and just hope when he’s given an instruction, he’ll comply. Why would I?

Cell phones on the airplane, some people want them, others don’t. Me, I fall into the don’t category. Why? Because it’s a me, me, me world we’re living in and people today don’t always have common courtesy for those seated around them.

Tell me what you think.


Photo courtesy of Jung Hong (cell phone), Beigeinside (flight attendant)