Anxious airline passengers have a whole new reason to worry about air travel. The Federal Communications Commission is flirting with in-flight cellphone use by 2006. Imagine being trapped at...

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Anxious airline passengers have a whole new reason to worry about air travel. The Federal Communications Commission is flirting with in-flight cellphone use by 2006.

Imagine being trapped at 30,000 feet in a dimly lighted metal tube, shoe-horned into a seat next to the guy who won’t quit talking for three hours.
You’ve heard them on the bus, at a restaurant or in a book store. Seemingly incapable of a normal conversational voice, they talk louder on the phone, and share their half of a chat with everyone.

Masquerading as an improvement, this annoying leap is probably unavoidable. Really, really unavoidable.

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Many planes are equipped with seatback phones, but they are expensive to use, and customers complain about scratchy connections. Cellphones and other equipment use have been banned because of interference with airplane navigational equipment.

Round one of the brave, new chatty world will be high-speed Internet connections. Even in-flight Web access is a couple of years away, but the airlines have been freed to explore their options.

Equipping planes is not cheap, and the business model is not clear about who might be allowed to offer service, though mostly likely it will be through an auction.

Connecting to the Internet to check on e-mails and idle away time in online bridge games is fairly unobtrusive. Tapping a keyboard next to a restless sleeper has its own etiquette issues. None comes close to the mouthy talker.

Mercifully, cellphone use seems to have a lot more technical issues to overcome. Well, the FCC is encouraged to be very, very careful. Extra due diligence is wholly appropriate. Take lots of time.