Do You Even Want to Hear Me Now? Or Later?

Another View by Dennis Patrick Slattery

Held hostage by cellphone users

Printed in the San Antonio Express-News, Friday, May 10, 2013

I fly each month for 8 months of the year to California where I teach part time. One of my greatest fears is not one of crashing, or hearing strange engine noises, or even sleeping all night on the floor of an airport. It is the fear of airlines allowing cell phones to be used during the entire flight. The reason for this fear that gives me damp hands and shortness of breath when I think of it will be clear in a moment. My guess is that many of you who fly will relate to this plight, which feels like another form of turbulence.

Recently I sat next to a man during a flight from Phoenix to San Antonio. As soon as he sat down and buckled up, he fired up his cell phone and got one of his subordinates on the other line. He then proceeded to rip into this person with abandon, much to the chagrin of all of us around him:

“Why are you not at your desk? What are you doing on the floor of the company when you should be at your desk?


“I gave you this cut-and-paste project to work on two months ago. What are you doing all day so you haven’t finished it? I want it completed and on my desk by Wednesday morning, no excuses. You did not follow through…”. And on it went. We all gave a sigh of liberation when the cabin door was closed and he was forced to turn off his phone.
Here’s another forgetful moment on another flight of the same route. A man answers his cell phone:



“What do you mean we’re finished? Why are you telling me now? Why didn’t you bring this up last night? I’m on the plane now ready to take off. You gave no indication last night you were not happy! Now you spring this on me at the worst possible moment.”


“Can’t we talk when I get back?”


“You can’t mean it. After all I’ve given you, sacrificed for you…”



A third installment, different flight:
“Hi. Just checking in. What are you wearing?”

Oh, god, I cringe, from the seat across the aisle. I’ve heard this one before.

“The red ones with the bow I bought you for your birthday? I thought you would wear them for me when we see each other this weekend.
How do they fit? Can you send me a photo of you in them now? Hurry! Before I have to turn the phone off. Oh, I can’t wait to take them….”

Enough information. Even my earplugs will not drown out the drivel.

Technology in the wrong hands can shatter all boundaries and senses of decorum and fair play. We are all a captured audience on planes, but there are those who remain completely unconscious that their words uttered in such a small space can be as toxic as cigar smoke or music played beyond human tolerance.

My pressure falls, my altitude and good attitude dissolve when I think of all of us sitting next to people who call and “do business” or “do relationships” or who “do boredom” on the rest of us for an entire flight’s duration. Everywhere, but most painfully, airplanes where there is no option of moving, has become office, bedroom, home space, but in fact it is not, even if treated as if it were.

Please, we are as passengers packed into smaller spaces with one another, as it is. Why foster or promote possible instances of “cabin rage” when some sense of courtesy and mindfulness with our technology could make situations like the one described here more civilized and, yes, even quieter so that one’s personal life is not strewn across the aisles and down the runway. Thank you in advance for putting your phone on “Airplane mode.”

Dennis Patrick Slattery lives in New Braunfels and commutes to California where he teaches at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara.

1 Comment
  1. Great story Dennis, I can’t imagine how much worse some of the new tech may make this syndrome–like the google glass thing.