You've heard the bad news by now. The Federal Communications Commission says it will soon propose allowing cell phone calls from airplanes above 10,000 feet.
This is no done deal. And a few airlines might resist, like Southwest. But I have the bad feeling that the airplane cabin, at least on some airlines, will disappear as a sanctuary.
After all, the rationale for banning cellular calls -- that they could affect flight operations -- seems to have disappeared. The rules against tablets and other devices already have been relaxed.
So we may want to prepare ourselves for the day when we'll have to listen to the unbelievably irritating "He said what? Well, who's coming Friday night?'' from a seatmate.
One option is to establish calling and no-calling sections on the plane, like the old smoking and nonsmoking sections.
But this is fraught with problems. For starters, airlines hoping to fatten their bottom line probably will charge for seating in either section. And noise, like smoke, tends to travel.
Another option is for everyone to go out and buy really good noise-canceling headphones. But let's face it. Not all of us think that far ahead.
You'd have to be blind not to see the looming conflict. That's why the flight attendants' union dislikes the FCC idea. They don't want to be cops.
(A recent poll by the Federal Aviation Administration showed 51 percent of airline passengers supported the ban on cell calls, while 47 percent wanted it relaxed).
There's a sensible answer here, one that Silicon Valley's technology can help shape. Just place an exorbitant tax on these calls. Make them really, really expensive.
If a cell phone call from an airplane cost -- say -- 25 cents a second, or $15 a minute, people would think twice about the useless, directionless conversations that drive seatmates wild.
This is well within the realm of technology. We already have companies such as Gogo that manage in-flight Internet. And because the carriers will have to install equipment to communicate with cellphone towers on the ground, they can monitor the length and direction of calls. I have no problem if the airlines want to take a cut of the action.
I don't pretend to know all the political or legal issues involved. But a tax like this would have three big benefits:
A) It would keep phone calls short. Unless you're rich, you're not going to hang on for meaningless jabber. (I fancy I can spot these people on the train, and I move away. You cannot do that on an airplane).
B) It would allow people who absolutely have to make verbal contact to do so -- and briefly. Most of us don't mind the quick, "Honey, the plane is running late. See you at 4,'' kind of call -- although why exactly you couldn't handle it by email is beyond me.
C) It would offer a public benefit through an essentially voluntary tax, giving the federal government a few extra bucks. There might even be a political benefit to designating the money for an unmet need, like repairing bridges or upgrading schools.
If you've got any thoughts, I'd welcome them. You can add your comments at www.mercurynews.com/scott-herhold. Just beware: Change is in the offing. And we should try to have a creative answer before the hour is too late.