Yes, you have the right to a little travel peace and quiet


You probably already knew that, but now it’s official. Well, almost. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is pondering a rule that would require airlines to notify passengers if they allow the use of mobile wireless devices, such as smartphones, to make telephone calls on board. It’s also asking for comments on whether it should ban airlines from allowing voice calls on such devices — a call for travel peace and quiet.

Implied in both those requests: that airline passengers have a right to travel peace and quiet when they’re on a plane.

And that has other travelers wondering if there isn’t something bigger going on here — perhaps an unwritten right to a lower decibel level, not just for airline passengers, but for drivers, hotel guests and rail passengers.

As a matter of fact, there might be.

One of the most well-established rights for quiet already exists in the hotel business, according to Christopher Johnston, a hospitality lawyer based in Minneapolis.

“Guests are entitled to a reasonably quiet room,” he says, noting that at least two legal doctrines come into play when dealing with travel peace and quiet. One is implied warranty of habitability, which basically says your room will be livable. The second is a breach of contract, which would happen when your room isn’t habitable.

Hotels promise as much. JW Marriott, for example, prominently guarantees “quiet luxury.” Crowne Plaza offers “Quiet Zone” rooms where there are no room attendant, housekeeping or engineering activities carried out from 9 p.m. to 10 a.m., five days a week, unless specifically requested by a guest. The U.K. hotel chain Premier Inn even has a “Good Night Guarantee” that strongly implies that if your room isn’t quiet, you’ll get a full refund. There are exceptions for extreme weather conditions, fire, flood, lightning, earthquake, explosion, terrorism, war, civil disorder, epidemics, embargoes, labor disputes and power cuts.

How about drivers? None of the major car rental companies promise quieter cars, but at least one major car manufacturer does. Buick’s QuietTuning is a combination of 60 features that reduce, block and absorb more than 175 different noises a car encounters on an average trip. It includes the use of sound-absorbing materials in the cabin, an acoustic insulation material on the front dash panel and new suspension technologies designed for greater isolation from road noise.

Click here to subscribeBuick says 78 percent of its owners wanted a less noisy driving experience, which prompted the company to develop QuietTuning. “Quietness makes everything better,” says Marissa West, Buick’s director of global noise and vibration. (Seriously, that’s her title.)

It is a good thing. I spoke with dozens of travelers for this story, and they all told me that less of a racket wasn’t just welcome while they’re on the road, it’s expected. They’re especially fond of travel providers that go out of their way to make things less noisy. Several mentioned Amtrak’s Quiet Cars, an oasis of travel peace and quiet, where passengers are required to speak in “subdued tones” and phone calls aren’t allowed.

“Noise pollution is a real thing,” says Liz Dahl, a frequent traveler who lives in Louisville. “When people are speaking on their cellphones, more than just their seatmates are disturbed. They also seem to speak louder, so imagine even 50 percent of passengers chatting away — no one could sleep or read without a great deal of disruption.”

OK, let’s go there: Let’s talk about the talkers on the plane. It’s safe to say that a majority of passengers feel planes should be cellphone-free zones. But some airlines and a few travelers disagree, noting that banning a cellphone conversation is as absurd as banning any conversation on an aircraft.

The proponents of cellphone use make a valid point. Cellphones on planes are probably inevitable. And there’s a long list of noisier things, such as PA systems, screaming babies and the roar of aircraft engines, that are likely to pollute the cabin with noise before you’re bothered by a single conversation. Yes, travelers have the right to quiet, but it’s an implied right, and one enforced by the good manners of your fellow passengers and guests.

Good luck regulating that, DOT.

How to get travel peace and quiet

Don’t wait for the government to regulate travel peace and quiet. Here’s how to find a little peace while you’re on the road.

  • Book where there’s less noise. The front of the aircraft is less noisy and tends to have a quieter kind of passenger (read: business travelers). Families with crying children tend to be found near the back of the plane. On a train, look for the quiet cars.
  • Block it. The latest noise-canceling headsets can filter out unwanted noise. But if you’re serious about avoiding noise pollution, always travel with a pair of earplugs, which will fit in your pocket and keep almost any travel environment relatively serene.
  • Timing is everything. Don’t expect to get much quiet if you’re in New Orleans around Mardi Gras (Feb. 28) or in one of the popular spring break destinations in March. Your right to quiet comes with some important exceptions.