The Law of Unintended Consequence impacts all our decisions and actions in ways we didn’t expect, no matter how well-meaning or poorly-contrived the original rationale. If laptops and tablets and e-book readers disappear from airplane cabins (on flights from Europe and the Middle East to begin with), we may find that it’s a mixed blessing.
The chest-beating, hair-pulling, primal-scream consternation of business flyers reacting to the pending loss of laptops and tablets on board flights from Europe can be heard around the globe. Like many business people, I have spent a good deal of time recently thinking about the dire implications of not having my laptop with me on the road. Bottom line: It’s a nonstarter. I require it. My laptop is a precious extension of my brain—and ofttimes more useful. Its value to business pursuits is irreplaceable.
Heck, we should complain; never has it been more “mete and right so to do” as I recall the 1928 Episcopal prayer book words in the Liturgy. Not having an electronic device at hand in flight can be detrimental to productivity; not having a laptop at all on a business trip is nearly fatal to achieving the trip’s mission in the first place. Much ink is currently being spilled on this subject.
But what about the more trivial pursuits that a tablet or laptop sitting on an airplane tray table provides access to? Will we miss those recreations quite as much as studying complex spreadsheets, or sweating over PowerPoint bullets, or updating Outlook Calendar?
For instance, more than once on an airplane I have innocently glanced over at an open laptop next to me in the compressed spaces of coach and seen video porn running on the screen. This occurred with the viewer, my seatmate, uncomfortably close to begin with in those inhumanly cramped spaces, so rapt with attention to the sweaty contortions of the naked participants onscreen, that he (and it’s always a guy watching) was oblivious to being in a most public place where anybody could watch along with him.
For some reason it’s always the fellow in the center seat watching pornography on a plane. By choice, I am always in an aisle seat, so I can turn away. But on one such flight I noticed the woman in the window seat observed what was playing and turned bright red and remained frowning and flushed throughout the flight. She turned to the window and never looked back until we landed.
Who can blame her? I am no prude, but seeing such things in a confined space where escape is impossible always makes me feel slightly unclean, especially since contact with my fellow passenger’s body is unavoidable in such close quarters. I won’t miss such chance encounters with boors when laptops are banned on board. No, not at all.
A happier impact of eliminating laptops will be to see tray tables shorn of the familiar black clamshell devices, making it far easier for customers in center and window seats to get out to reach the lavatories.
Speaking of trips to the rear lavs in economy, returning to one’s seat up the aisle is the best way to comprehend the ubiquity of electronic devices on board flights: Nearly everybody has one going. Small as they are, tablets and laptops in aggregate must account for a fair portion of overhead and underseat space on flights. Perhaps when we are forced to travel that much lighter, so will the cabin spaces be less cluttered, leaving sufficient room for everyone’s belongings at our feet or in the compartments above our heads. (Okay, maybe I’m dreaming.)
On the other hand, if Marx was right when he wrote in the 19th century that religion was “the opiate of the people,” then surely Netflix and Amazon Prime movies and TV shows are the opiate of the 21st century flying public, keeping them nicely sedated during today’s horribly claustrophobic and often-delayed flights. Yes, you can stream movies and TV shows on your smartphone, but it’s tedious and suboptimal, isn’t it? Only a video screened on a tablet or laptop makes the flights, well, fly by. So what will stress levels be like when no passenger has a suitable device to placate the troubled soul by watching a movie? I can almost feel the in-flight tension rising just contemplating the ban.
The prospect of a passenger blowing a fuse because not properly medicated through immersion in some meaningless, escapist motion picture tripe (exactly the type I like) does worry me. Remember when airlines routinely gave out playing cards to anyone who asked? And plenty of current magazines were stocked on board? Even in those less stressful times when flights were not always completely full and seat spacing followed humane measures of legroom, airlines knew that a passenger’s mind occupied playing cards or reading a magazine was less likely to cause trouble. Gin rummy, anyone?
Speaking of reading, will passengers now go back to bringing aboard books made of paper when e-book readers are given the boot along with tablets and laptops? Personally, I never kicked that habit, especially since Amazon sells used books for a penny plus $3.99 for shipping. I take books on every flight, read them, and then give them away. They don’t require batteries and never malfunction unless my bookmark falls out. After e-devices vanish from airplane cabins, I hope to see more folks heads-down, buried in a good novel or perhaps a Civil War history (or, if you are from the South, a tome about the so-called “War of Northern Aggression”).
Another advantage of paper over e-devices is that books don’t take up much room in overhead compartments or in luggage. Call me a Pollyanna, but I am always looking for ways to optimize airplane cabin overhead space.
Of course, some folks just enjoy cruising the Internet or catching up on email by connecting their electronic device to in-flight wifi. The service isn’t cheap. I’ve often wondered whether on-the-go wifi was a decent revenue stream for the airlines. Whether it’s a money-spinner or not, I don’t foresee as many passengers opting for that purchase to connect their smartphone as for their laptop or tablet. Will the ban cause airlines to discontinue in-flight wifi due to shriveling fees? Will anyone care?
We will soon see how the e-device cabin prohibition falls out to us business travelers. I didn’t consider the ancillary consequences until the ban loomed close at hand. All this thinking has given me a headache. Whatever happens, though, I am sure that frequent flyers will adapt to the changes, intended and unintended, as we always have.
Heck, let’s just move on. Your next drink in the Club is on me.