Actually, they do have "phones." They could make VOIP calls (Voice Over Internet Protocol) like Skype, and do so right now, if only the airlines would let them. As far as I could determine, there's no government rule against those calls, but as AirTran's Christopher White put it: "We intentionally made [this] decision, out of respect and concern for all passengers."
In other words, they knew some passengers would throw a fit. And yet, I really don't hear as much criticism of cells on planes as I used to.
But the move to keep cell phones off planes has Congressional allies. The House just passed the "Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace" Act, or HANG UP, which would maintain the ban on cell phone use during flights.
But again, people love their WiFi, even if it does cost as much as $12.95 for a three hour flight. In fact, many say it's one fee they don't mind paying.
So it's a logical progression: first WiFi, then cell phones. If passengers will pay for one, they'll pay for the other. And that may be the real reason we'll finally get to make cell phone calls in flight -- all those dazzling new fees for the airlines!
The airlines could charge cell phone users and cell phone haters. Think about it: some airlines might turn their lack of cell phone equipment into a marketing opportunity -- touting the peace and quiet of their planes, perhaps.
Or who knows, an enterprising airline might even charge a fee for a cell phone-free seating zone. The airlines must be drooling over these possibilities.
It won't happen today or tomorrow, but take a look at what's happening elsewhere. Like dominos, country after country is giving in to cell phone demand. If you hate it, just let the airlines know. I'm sure they'll accommodate you -- for a price.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.