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Published: Thursday, 9/10/2009


THAT popular cry of frustration "there ought to be a law" needs a counterpoint: Sometimes, there ought not to be a law. That is the case of cell phones in airplanes.

Cell phones are often irritating, much to the frustration of those in earshot. It happens all over but not so much in planes where passengers are told to switch off their electronic devices before takeoff, supposedly because they could interfere with navigation systems.

Yet planes in Europe seem to find their destinations when passengers talk on phones in flight, and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.) is concerned that cell phone use in the sky may spread to the United States. He is sponsoring a bill - the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace Act, or HANG UP, which has passed the House - that would ban cell phone use during flights but would allow e-mailing, texting, and accessing the Internet.

Mr. DeFazio cites a 2007 survey by the International Airline Passengers' Association that found 88 percent of 3,000 frequent fliers said allowing cell phone use would be "a source of great irritation." But that begs the question: If it would so irritate customers, what airline would want to allow it?

As annoying as cell phone conversations can be in flight, are they any worse than that of two bores sitting together and discussing some distracting topic? Actually, cell phones have proved their worth on planes - on doomed Flight 93, for example, and for passengers stranded on tarmacs for hours - and, to be fair, under the DeFazio bill they could still be carried on planes to cover such emergencies.

No, this ought to be left to the marketplace to decide. There ought not to be a law.

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