In today’s Financial Times, Jagdish Bhagwati (Columbia University) advocates dealing with the threat of mobile phones on flights. He likens the harm — to one’s mental state at least — as equivalent to smoking (remember that). Bhagwati argues that planes should have special booths that callers would go to to prevent noise pollution.
Interestingly, in many long haul flights phone calls have been an open for a long-time. They just cost a fortune and people don’t use them. It seems to me also that what is a problem for non-callers is a problem for callers; it is hard to hear on flights. Mobiles used for non-voice communication would alleviate all of this and that seems like something worth encouraging.
In any event, if mobiles were available on flights what might one do. It is fun to speculate on this. For instance, consider the following. Provide each passenger with a certain right to make calls — say for no more than 15 minutes. To make a call, they give their coupon to a flight attendant and then go for it. This will limit the total amount of noise pollution.
Then you can make those coupons tradeable. If you want to make more calls you are allowed to purchase coupons from your row — up to two seats either side. Then if your neighbour doesn’t mind the noise you will be able to find a price to trade. If they do, then your right is gone and that is that. This might generate a little more efficiency than Bhagwati’s proposal. Of course, it could also make the plane into a trading pit.
Actually, we could also allow passengers to pre-purchase a coupon up to a certain amount. Then if you want to limit noise in your row, don’t purchase one. But if you want to see if you can make a little dough, do so.