Help Me Out On This Whole Cell Phone on Airplanes Thing, OK?

| Tue Dec. 10, 2013 1:36 PM EST

Hereditary Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania is a pretty conservative guy who believes the government should keep its nose out of private enterprise. Unless, that is, private enterprise happens to annoy him:

Political momentum to keep a ban on cellphone calls during flights gained momentum Monday as lawmakers said it would be crazy to allow them....“Let’s face it, airplane cabins are by nature noisy, crowded, and confined,” said Shuster, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “For those few hours in the air with 150 other people, it’s just common sense that we all keep our personal lives to ourselves and stay off the phone.”

....Lawmakers in favor of keeping the ban say they’re not worried about the safety of passengers. They’re worried about their sanity. “For passengers, being able to use their phones and tablets to get online or send text messages is a useful in-flight option,” Shuster said. “But if passengers are going to be forced to listen to the gossip in the aisle seat, it’s going to make for a very long flight.”

So what's next? A federal ban on cell phones in buses? Restaurants? Movie theaters? Cell phone yakkers are pretty annoying in those places, too.

Don't get me wrong: If I were your benevolent overlord, I'd ban them in all these places. In fact, that would just be the start. And punishment for violating my benevolent statutes would be harsh. Very, very harsh.

But even as a meddling, big-government-loving, knee-jerk liberal, I'm having a hard time coming up with a good reason for this. If Delta Airlines wants to allow cell phone use even though half their customer base rebels, why shouldn't they? The safety arguments are pretty specious, and in any case, Shuster doesn't even try to go there. He just wants to prohibit private companies from allowing behavior that he finds annoying.

I don't know. Maybe this is one of those things like the Do Not Call List, where I should decide that I just don't care about first principles. Cell phones on airplanes are so self-evidently infuriating, and banning them is such a trivial infringement on personal liberty, that we should be in favor of it regardless. But I confess that I'd still like to hear a more coherent argument. Why should the federal government be in charge of telling companies where they can and can't permit their customers to use cell phones?

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