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Using a Cell Phone on a Plane

6 Tips for Cell Phone Etiquette on Airplanes

by Susan Fogwell

"As a longtime flight attendant, I am like a sociologist, regularly witnessing the collapse of modern day common courtesy. Traveling can and will bring out the worst in people. Exacerbating this is the cell phone, a major culprit in precipitating a lack of manners. Some passengers lose all sense of how to conduct themselves in public while using their cell phones. In the cramped quarters of an aircraft, bad behavior irritates people at a more heightened level. Simply stated, it’s a recipe for disaster.

To prevent this, I’ve identified six tips on proper cell phone usage that readers should remember while traveling on any airline:

1. While boarding the airplane, don’t use the phone. Your hands are filled with a carry-on bag, a boarding pass, and a cell phone, making it more difficult to navigate the aisle, stow your bags, possibly climb over someone to reach your seat, and then sit down. Please don’t subject your seat mate to a loud, irrelevant conversation. Sit down, and if there’s time, which there usually is, place a brief call, but lower your voice a few decibels.

2. While in the aisle with a line of passengers behind you, don’t continue your cell conversation, or worse, stop to jot down a message, or text message. Consider your plane mates--you’ll be holding up the line, and nobody enjoys waiting on you. Chances are, you just sat in either the gate area or some private club for 30 or more minutes, your messaging could have been done there.

3. If you need to ask a flight attendant a question, don’t ask while you’re speaking to someone on the cell phone. We have a great deal to accomplish in a compressed amount of time, and we don’t have the extra time to respond to someone who is only half listening. This results in us raising our voices and repeating ourselves to your temporary attention deficit disorder. It’s rude, and we have other passengers to attend to. If you’re lucky enough to sit in first-class, chances are that you’re familiar with the routine: the flight attendant will be taking your coat and offering you a pre-departure beverage. Don’t be on the cell phone when we approach you with our questions concerning your coat, seat and drink. You may think that you’re impressing the person on the other end with, “I’ll have a ‘Jack and Ginger with a twist,’” but believe me, you’re not impressing us. We’ve served everybody on board from major celebrities to the average Joe. You’re no different. Please wait to make your call until after initial flight attendant communication has wrapped up and you’re comfortably seated.

4. When the door closes to the aircraft, we will announce that it is time to discontinue cell use, among other electronic devices. Promptly end your call. By the time we reach your seat, we want to see you in the midst of turning it off or putting it away. No more chatter. If it’s not off, don’t be surprised to hear a curt request. The surrounding passengers will hear it too, and most likely, a few will roll their eyes.

5. On the plane, voices tend to amplify. Shouting on your cell phone is the epitome of rudeness. This is not the time to be conducting an expletive-laden argument with your other half, or yelling at little Bobby that he’s grounded from his Nintendo. There are people from all walks of life surrounding you and some may not appreciate x-rated content or foul language. Save your more personal discussions for when you’re off the plane.

6. Last but not least, keep your phone handy. Most airlines will allow you to use it while taxiing to the gate. This is definitely not the time to jump up and search for it in the overhead bin. The pilot can hit the brakes at any moment and you’ll end up with whiplash, not to mention, the embarrassment of a flight full of glaring eyes as you’re very publicly summoned to sit down immediately.

Remember, we’re all trying to get to our destination safely and peacefully. Common courtesy goes along way.

About Susan Fogwell
Susan Fogwell has been a flight attendant with a major U.S. airline for 10 years, and is a regular travel writer for online and print publications worldwide. Susan specializes in discovering and writing about exotic, little-known places appreciated by seasoned travelers. Visit Susan’s blog at