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Is 'gate-to-gate' phone usage really necessary?

By James Durston, CNN
updated 8:36 AM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hong Kong the latest region to open the door for extra phone usage on planes
  • Alec Baldwin kicked off a flight in 2011 for refusing to turn off phone

(CNN) -- Unless you're traveling in first or business, or you're a child who's been plied with more toys and candies than you normally get in a week, air travel can be an uncomfortable affair.

It's cramped, the booze comes in bottles way too small and if you're not being reclined into, you're being shouted at for reclining.

Worst of all, you can't even play a game of Words With Friends while sitting on the runway.

Or you couldn't.

Aviation authorities around the world are starting to liberalize the regulations governing electronic devices on planes.

Last year Europe and the United States began to allow "gate-to-gate" use of phones, tablets and e-readers and in the last two weeks Australia and Hong Kong have followed suit.

For years people have called for the "nonsensical" rules barring the use of phones during takeoff and landing to be overhauled and now it appears they're getting their way.

But I for one won't be utilizing these new rules.

Liberation from the phone

Despite air travel's well known frustrations, it provides, at least for those few minutes either side of cruising, a break from the bleeps, bloops and jingles of the always-on generation.

For a few precious minutes the real world returns.

Books become things to read, rather than things you plan to read once you've written a few emails.

The window becomes a frame highlighting the outside, rather than something to avoid in case that annoying sunlight glares too brightly on the screen.

People who spend much of their time with heads bent toward their smart phones as if their necks have suddenly lost all strength, eyeballs flickering with the flashes, detonations, bursts and blasts of whatever game is in vogue that hour, resume a human posture, make eye contact, respond when spoken to.

Airlines have stopped short of allowing people to talk on their phones.
Airlines have stopped short of allowing people to talk on their phones.

Are we so addicted to our smart phones that we can't leave them alone for even a fraction of a fraction of a day?

Our sidewalks are already plagued by hordes of downward-gazing phone-walkers, eyes fastened to their screens with unwavering application.

Like a new race of tech-enabled humans, they navigate streets, escalators and public transport systems without ever lifting their eyes or crashing into each other -- a triumph of peripheral perception or perhaps evidence they're all connected in some kind of Borgian super-conscious dimension.

The plane cabin was one place we could escape this techno overload.

Could vs. should

To be clear, this isn't a complaint about the airlines, which are simply supplying an extra service to their customers.

It's a lament, and I suppose a challenge -- just because you can, doesn't mean you have to.

I always enjoy the liberating call from the captain: "Please turn off all electronic devices until we are at cruising altitude."

And I'm not alone.

In a study undertaken in 2013 by the Airline Passenger Experience Association and the Consumer Electronics Association, 40% of passengers wanted to use their devices from gate to gate, which means 60% did not.

The new regulations don't even extend to transmissions -- devices must remain in "flight mode" -- so is it even worth it?

I'll go further, and say it's not even worth taking your phone on the plane these days.

In-flight entertainment provides more movies, TV shows and other programs than you could watch during 10 flights. And don't forget those books.

Phones and tablets are also an extra inconvenience during the security checks.

British Airways is one carrier that now requires all devices to be powered up, and if you refuse or cannot, the device won't be allowed on the plane.

Traveling conjures enough headaches without adding "cell phone anxiety" to the mix.

What do you think? Do you want to use your phone from gate to gate, or do you enjoy a little "off time" on a flight?

James Durston is a senior producer for CNN Travel, and enjoys flying phone free.

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