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The Boston Globe


Etiquette at work

On airplanes, there’s no escape from phones

A CNN article quoted Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler announcing the opening of a can of worms: “Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the [Federal Aviation Administration], and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers.”

Outdated? Restrictive? Cellphone calls on airplanes an opportunity?

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It’s not an opportunity. It’s a terrible idea. Period.

People are already annoyed by those who talk on a cellphones in public places. When they do it on public transportation, the frustration grows. At least on a bus or train it is sometimes possible to move away from the offending party.

Not on a plane. I remember a flight from JFK. We were in a 45-minute-long line of planes waiting to take off. The captain did what he thought was a nice thing: He let passengers use their phones. The guy next to me called his buddy two planes ahead of us and, for the next half-hour, proceeded to discuss the snail’s pace of the jets. I couldn’t get away.

Therein lies the problem with calls on planes. Imagine two or three people or more all around you using their phones. It’s a terrible idea.

Besides, I treasure those few hours on a plane where the business world can’t reach me. The world already has me pretty much 24/7. The plane is my refuge. Just the other day I got asked, “Well, what is the etiquette to talking on a phone on a plane?” My first thought: Don’t do it.

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But if you are going to talk and it is permitted:

 At least try to talk quietly. You don’t have to shout into the phone.

Try to make your calls short.

Stay away from confidential information, salacious descriptions, and simply TMI (too much information) others don’t want to hear, or shouldn’t hear. If you can’t post what you’re going to say on a bulletin board for anyone to read, then don’t make it part of your conversation.

Be considerate of the people trapped in seats near you.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to

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