From Non-Smokers to Non-Talkers

No SmokingI started traveling on airliners in 1974, when you could still accompany a traveling passenger onto a plane. When it was time to leave, the flight attendant would announce that they were going to close the doors, and any friends not traveling had better leave the plane now.

That was in the days when smoking was also still allowed on airliners. Usually the smoking section was in the back, after row 20 or so. Presumably the canned air in the back of the plane would stay there and not mix with the air in the front. Many a time I sat in row 18 or 19. Oh the joy when the announcement came that it was okay to light up! Everyone in row 20 and behind would immediately start puffing.

Of course, in first class, usually rows 1 to 6, smoking also had to be allowed. So rows 5 and 6 were the smoking rows in first class. I never could figure out how the air from row 5 and 6 knew that it was not allowed to drift forward to row 4 or back to row 7 and beyond.

The most ludicrous arrangement I had ever seen was on the German Air Force Boeing 707 airliners. The old 707 was the workhorse airliner of the 1960s and 1970s, with four massive, polluting and loud engines. It had the standard arrangement of three seats on each side of the aisle, like on most midrange planes today. Since Germans smoke more, they needed more smoking seats. So they came up with the brilliant idea to have the right side of the plane smoking and the left side non-smoking. Seats A, B and C were non-smoking, D, E and F smoking. I don’t have to tell you how well that worked.

I am glad most civilized nations have since outlawed smoking on airliners. Even the Germans have figured that out.

For many years, the use of cell phones has not been permitted in planes. The FAA is now considering lifting that ban, setting the way for people to talk (and text, post and chat) on airliners.

It is one of my personal pet peeves that I don’t like to listen to other people’s phone conversations.

In the American Airlines Admirals Clubs there are often “Quiet Rooms” with signs posted all around that the use of cell phones is not permitted. That’s where I go when I want to read, study or work without the disturbance of other people’s conversations. But as it seems to happen every time I am there, some unwitting passenger pulls out the phone and starts a long phone conversation. Of course the perpetrator does not realize he or she is in a quiet room and is the only one talking. All the people in the room are forced to listen to every word of that person’s private conversation, and everyone is embarrassed to point out the sign “Quiet Room” on the wall.

I also get a kick out of the conversations surging on airplanes when the captain turns off the seatbelt sign after landing. Seemingly two-thirds of the passengers have an urgent need to make a phone call, telling whoever is picking them up that yes, they have landed, and no, they are still on the plane, and yes, they will see each other in a few minutes at the baggage claim, and no, they are still on the plane, and yes, the flight was good. Couldn’t that conversation wait another seven minutes when they faced their friends in person at the baggage claim?

Vector no cellphone signI am horrified about the idea that the people 17.5 inches to either side of me, and 20 inches in front and behind me, all could be chatting about their private business all flight long. I’d rather spend that five hours in jail than be trapped between chit-chatters.

If the restriction on cell phone use in airplanes is lifted, I appeal to the airlines to institute non-talking sections on flights. Rows 20 and beyond are the talking rows. Rows 7 to 19 are for the non-talkers like me. I already pity the people sitting in row 19, because chit-chat is just like smoke. It gets all over the place.

And thus I have coined a new term: Non-talker.

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