A few months ago, while flying a leading US airline, delays stranded me in Philadelphia for eight hours. I like to catch up on my reading while traveling, and I’m always looking for a quiet place to sit down with a book or magazine. Alas, on that day, it was not to be. Although I sat as far away from the CNN-blaring TV as I could, the sound track was being broadcast from ceiling speakers throughout the passenger seating area, in direct conflict with the background music being piped through the same speakers. After moving to about five different seats, and almost crawling out of my skin, I finally went up to a ticket agent and asked if there were anywhere I could go to escape the CNN sound track. He replied, “not only is there no escape, the TVs have sensors on them that automatically raise the volume as the sound level in the area rises.” He added that US Airways had a contract with CNN that allowed it to inflict this torture on its customers, for a fee, of course.
I have gotten used to the ubiquity of TV sets in public places. I realize that quiet is not a commodity in great demand in our overstimulated society. But I also realized, as I sat and tried to read while being distracted by the cacaphony around me, that the last thing airlines need to do in their current operating environment is to affirmatively add to customer fatigue, frustration and anger, even subliminally. It was not until I had a long time to sort out what was bugging me that day that I realized why I always have found air travel so enervating. I have a suggestion for US Airways — modify the CNN contract to kill the sound beyond viewing range of the TV sets, and make up for the lost revenue by cutting the salary of the overpaid MBA who came up with the idea in the first place.