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airborne madness


Back in Dublin for only a couple of days, and coming here today one of the airlines I used (Alitalia) inflicted on me part of its required stupidity quota for the month.

I'm in my seat, the captain is issuing the usual blahblah about not using cellphones at any time during flight, electronic devices during takeoff or landing. He stops for a moment. That might be it. But no. Then he says: CD Players cannot be used at any time. Then he says, laptop computers can be used after takeoff.

I ignore the implied stupidity of the "rules and regulations" and take out my Rio 800 (Mp3 player).
A flight attendant sees it. He walks closer and says, what is that?
Music player, I say.
MP3? He says.
I am impressed, Yes, I say.
You can't use it.
Sorry, what?
You can't use it, he says.
What do you mean?
It's dangerous.
But can I use a radio, for example?
Yes.
And a laptop computer.
Yes.
But not this.
No.
I know I shouldn't get into this argument, but I can't help it. I say, do you realize that if the idea is to stop electromagnetic emissions, the laptop is going to generate at least an order of magnitude more than this solid-state player?
Blank look. Then: You can't use it.
I laugh.
He goes away.

Now what really is funny is that some time ago Boeing made extensive tests to determine whether cellphones and other electronic devices could really interfere. They loaded a 747 with everything they could think of and used them all during flight. Nothing happened. We should also keep in mind that a lot of what we know about 9/11 came from people using cell phones in flight.

So the hoopla about electronic devices in planes is divided in two: one, any device that is new and therefore "unknown". It doesn't matter that essentially the same device with different size or components is already approved. In the flight I was in, today, the guy later told a kid he couldn't use a Gameboy. It's as if suddenly we've become superstitious regarding technology. One would think that the people in charge of the "rules and regulations" would have some common sense (don't get me started on the stupidity of some of the "security rules" they put in place), but no. Common sense in the airline industry is more difficult to find these days than a proclamations for peace in the middle east by G.W. Bush.

The second problem, cellphones, is less about superstition and more about economic interests. You see, AT&T basically has a monopoly on in-flight phone systems. And they don't like competition from cellphones, which are cheaper and more convenient (the other reason, maybe a tiny bit more coherent, is that a cellphone on a plane is moving so fast that the cells on the ground get strained from having to hand off calls from one cell to another so fast).

Anyway, the next time you get on a plane, you just might be asked to stop thinking as well. You never know what kind of waves those pesky braincells are emitting.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on September 7 2002 at 10:15 PM

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