Being subjected to the senseless jabbering of Earth-bound mobile-phone users is appalling enough, but the prospect of 14 hours of airborne aural torture could see the evolution of the frequently flying fist. So you've had a hard day. You're looking for a little zombie time after work, even if it is only for the duration of the bus ride to Lai Chi Kok. Mercilessly, it comes a-chirping, the sound of psychosis, that sickening, sugary, plinky-plonky mobile Muzak, that soundtrack to prospective violence. Instantly, in your ear, she's in full vocal pelt, that thirtysomething Lan Kwai Fonger fixing up her weekend in a voice that could warp concrete. She's joined from across the aisle by the transatlantic wannabe trader with all the personality of a disappointed doughnut that's lost its way in life. He's droning on about yields and percentages while the adolescent in front is snapping handset portraits and cackling to other pink-haired juveniles. Whatever murderous ire may rise in your contorted breast, you know the journey will end soon. But if hell is other people, as Jean-Paul Sartre asserted, what malevolence might mutate into catastrophic action from within the tormented aircraft passenger obliged to suffer 14 hours of the same blathered inanities? That could be your ghastly reality if technology continues its march ... right through the departure lounge and onto your plane. In fact, technological and safety issues now have little to do with the forthcoming loss of peace and relative quiet in one of the few places on - or rather off - the planet where you can escape the sort of electronic twiddling and air-headed twittering that brings out the axe-murderer in you. Allowing the use of mobile phones on aircraft is now a question of revenue and airline image and little else. The use of mobile phones on aircraft is usually forbidden, the main reason given being that phones could interfere with sensitive navigation equipment. What this really means is that aircraft were not designed to deal with mobile-phone signals and no one really knows if they can do so safely because too few tests have been carried out. What aviation experts do know is that electromagnetic interference from minuscule communications devices is one thing; interference from fuselage-frying bolts of lightning, which aircraft are required to withstand, is another. So in the meantime, onboard demonstrations are going ahead. Recently, American Airlines took journalists up on a chartered aircraft to show off, in association with software designer Qualcomm, new technology that allows inflight mobile-phone calls. 'Business people travelling want to be productive, and they've been very clear that they'd like to have access to [mobile] phones while in flight,' says a spokesman for American Airlines, adding that no decision on allowing phone use is likely until the middle of 2006. The Federal Communications Commission would have to approve any inflight use of mobile phones in the United States, adds the spokesman, but in the light of potential 'social implications', two possible sweeteners would be to ban phone calls during certain portions of a flight, or to make parts of an aircraft 'quiet zones', where phone calls were prohibited. Pandering to the business set is all very well, but a recent poll by the Association of Flight Attendants found Americans overwhelmingly oppose the use of mobile phones on aircraft. Sixty-three per cent of those surveyed said the ban should stay, with 21 per cent saying it should be lifted. Currently, the only way passengers can communicate with the ground is through phones built into armrests or bulkheads. Services thus provided are costly (about US$4 a minute) and therefore unpopular (although there may be some truth in gripes that certain airlines are keen to maintain the ban on mobile phones to increase revenue from onboard telephones). But the chance to use one's own mobile phone would make the practice of communication with planet Earth more common, which also raises worries about passenger rage. Unlike on British and American trains, where 'no phone zones' are common, it is unclear whether similarly segregated areas could be introduced on planes. According to Pat Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, travellers could become angry and even violent because there would be no escape from the prattling of fellow passengers. Meanwhile, the US Professional Flight Attendants' Association is urging its 11,000 members to write to the Federal Communications Commission to oppose an end to the inflight phone ban. The union's greatest concern is that passengers talking on telephones would miss important safety instructions from attendants. Nevertheless, the tide is turning in favour of allowing inconsequential intercontinental babble. While local operators such as SmarTone, CSL and Hutchison rub their hands together in the wings (pun intended), Airbus, the world's largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft, and Swiss information technology firm SITA have set up a joint-venture company to make inflight mobile phone services widely available. A spokesman for their spin-off business, OnAir, says the new system, which could be widely available by 2007, would allow passengers to use phones and wireless laptop computers to communicate with friends and colleagues back on Earth. The system has, apparently, flown through inflight testing by Airbus and will also be developed for Boeing aircraft. 'Each airliner will be like a country in the sky,' says OnAir chief executive George Cooper. 'The price you pay should be no more than the standard roaming charge in Europe.' SITA managing director Francesco Violante says: 'We estimate the number of passengers in the market for onboard ... telephony will be more than 700 million by 2009. Meeting the communications needs of these air travellers will need to become part of an airline's passenger-service offer.' So there you have it: the emerging position of the big boys in the aviation world. During preparation of this article, British Airways kindly gave me this unequivocal statement of the company's position on mobile phones, which you may cling to if you wish: 'We currently do not allow customers to use any mobile phones onboard because they can interfere with the aircraft's avionics. We were given a short demonstration by Boeing in April 2004 about their new mobile phone technology. We have no plans to introduce it. 'Even if mobile phone technology moved on ... through wireless internet systems which could be installed onboard, we would have to think very carefully about whether we want to allow customers to use them because it could devalue the whole customer experience.' That may be music to the ears of an overwhelming number of travellers, but unfortunately money talks, or in some cases sings, and the pre-eminent music to which airline passengers may soon be subjected is that peculiar sort of electronic drivel that issues from a misshapen device attached to a 7-Eleven Hello Kitty key fob. At least I know where my tourist dollars are heading. Does anyone have a reservations number for Phone-Free Airways?