Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Shape of Things to Come

Are you ready for some air rage? How about ground rage?

Both are likely to intensify in the years ahead, thanks in large part to the proliferation of mobile personal electronic devices and the desire of travelers to use them anytime, anywhere - including commercial flights.

This thought suggested to me when I read today about a 68-year man who slugged a teenage boy who refused to turn off his iPhone on a Southwest Airlines flight; the airline had announced the time to turn off all electronic devices had arrived, just as the aircraft prepared to takeoff from Las Vegas. After the plane landed, in Boise, the slugger was arrested for resorting to violence and allegedly leaving a mark on the slugee. He facesa maximum sentence of six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000 USD.

This is exactly the type of thing many of us - led by flight attendants, who will inevitably have to adjudicate when someone wants to use a personal cell phone in flight and someone else wants to read or sleep - have been afraid of. The problem is only becoming more fraught as the number of devices grows and traditional reluctance to intrude on the privacy of others erodes under the need for constant stimulus and pressure to keep working and stay in touch with home and office.

Regardless of what laws eventually govern the use of personal devices, every airline - and every travel provider such as railroad lines and subways - has got to set policies for when such use is and isn't acceptable. And then stick to those policies.

The alternative is more tension, more blackguard oaths and maybe even more violence, both between passengers and between passengers and staff. Let's try to get this right now, while ground-rules are still being set.

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