The Telecom Commission has approved data and voice services over Indian airspace. In-flight connectivity will roll out in the next six months and passengers will be able to make phone calls, check messages, and surf the internet mid-air. Globally, 30 international airlines and several countries in the European Union already permit the use of mobile communications services in an aircraft. Minister of Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu tweeted that he plans to ensure earliest implementation for data services to make travel for Indians “delightful and hassle free” (The Indian Express, May 2, 2018).
Alas, it had to happen. The last zone where one can truthfully claim to be off the grid for a few precious hours, goes. I doubt I am alone in reading this news with dismay, that people may have long and animated discussions over the phone with impunity, while seated next to you. Worse, the ambient noise on a plane is so loud that flyers will need to scream, to be heard. Co-passengers will have no choice but to listen in on conversations, or the white noise that has become a constant with WhatsApp video forwards.
Flying has become so much more taxing over the years with deteriorating seats, negligible leg room, inedible food, even fights for arm rests. Now the ability to travel in silence, with just the comforting whirr of the plane has also been snatched away. The indisputable excuse for not returning a call, “I was on a flight” is over forever. One can only pray that the cost will be prohibitive enough to deter people from making calls on planes.
I am one of those who looks forward to flights, to be happily distracted by movies and shows or to devour a book, guilt free. There is so much joy in being alone and not being compelled to communicate. Being constantly available online comes with its own share of stresses because unlike the old days, the distinctions between public and private, work and downtime, no longer exist.
A while ago, I had gone on a trek and surprisingly enough, the cellphone worked well into the interiors of Garhwal. On the third day, the reception began to fade and simultaneously, you became more aware of the richness of your surroundings. Unplugging, is essential for perspective, to be fully able to see what’s right in front of you. Maybe it’s asking for too much, that we deserve some sort of quiet for that brief time travelling amidst 300 people, but convenience devices like cellphones must sometimes be cast aside, to find the space to clear your head and think.
Every country is unique in its advantages and its problems and one has to wonder that just because calls are permitted on flights elsewhere around the world, whether it’s the right way for India. Can we count on people being considerate enough to talk softly, or to respect a sleeping co-passenger?
With so many people packed into a small space, there’s barely any room to negotiate your aching knees. In any case, nerves are frayed and the atmosphere is tense. Everyday one reads about people killing each other over parking and over minor skirmishes while driving. Imagine the plight of someone, who may have the misfortune of an infant in the seat in front and a loud passenger on the phone behind. The possibilities for serious conflict are alarming. Besides, absolutely nobody, not that they were earlier, is going to pay attention to the safety demo done by the flight attendants. Everybody will be Whats Apping or talking. It will be interesting to see how phone calls on flights play out.
Maybe, like how there’s a division between Economy and Business Class, there should be a division between Calling and Non Calling passengers. Or perhaps, repeated, digitally provoked rudeness, will create new ideas for flying faster than the speed of sound.