An airplane announcement I’ve been waiting for

I blogged a few months back about how ridiculous the rules are regarding the use of electronic equipment on airplanes. I often leave my iPod on, and sometimes (gasp!) my laptop, which I leave secretly running inside my briefcase. I am happy to report no problems so far.

A flight attendant did something on my flight a few days ago that I have beeen waiting to hear for a long time. After the initial announcement that everyone had to turn off their electronic devices, she let a few minutes pass. Then she got back on the microphone and said, “According to the reading on my equipment up front, there is still one cell phone turned on, so please check that you have turned yours off.”

Obviously, she has no equipment for detecting this, but you should have seen the passengers scramble to check their bags. Except for me, of course. My laptop hummed happily along under the seat in front of me. Still, brilliant on the part of the flight attendant, although I think it would have been more convincing coming from the pilot.

The Economist, meanwhile, picked up on a theme mentioned in my past blog post regarding the nonsense in the ritual airline safety message about “in the unlikely event of a water landing…” Here is the Economist’s version of the in flight announcement we really want to hear (although you may need to be a subscriber to follow the link).

And, finally, let’s hope you don’t have to sit next to me on your next flight. Not only do I put you at risk because I don’t turn off my iPod and thus interfere with airline communications, but TSA just confiscated my deodorant and my toothpaste. Of course they let me keep my contact lens solution. Hmmm…if I were a terrorist, don’t you think that I could figure out how to take the top off a bottle of contact lens solution and put my explosive liquids in there? It is totally pointless to enforce rules which impose costs on innocent people, but are easily circumvented by terrorists. Can anyone think this is accomplishing anything productive?


Craig

You shouldn't complain. Imagine having to fly Israel's El Al Airlines frequently. The average wait is something like 3 hours for boarding and they spend somewhere around $70 per person for security as opposed to about $4 for domestic airlines. You can read about their extremely strict guidelines here:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/sept11/2001/10/01/elal-usat.htm

Of course continuing to break the rules for no apparent good reason is just going to cause more trivial security guidelines. And not taking 30 seconds to put your toothpaste in your checked baggage was probably not a good idea.

Isaac

The restrictions might not be as silly as you imply, according to the study described in this article.

joseph

Assuming for a moment that the cell phone restrictions actually have some validity (which I doubt), why isn't the TSA worried that a terrorist might 1) deliberately leave his cell phone on or 2) modify his cell phone specifically to screw with the plane's nav. systems, etc.? Let's ban cellphones and computers!

rahmulus

It's not one or two cell phones that they are worried about. It's the collective effect of 100-450 phones or devices that do pose a threat. So, thanks for being part of the community.

shmoo

Or fill the cell phone or laptop battery with explosives.

Have you tried carrying a small tube of toothpaste or something in your pocket? It's not metal, so they shouldn't find it if it's on your person and not in your baggage.

Taed

By announcing your behavior and your intention to continue, you are now officially an electronic interference terrorist.

PaulS2

No, it's not accomplishing much of anything. Americans would be much better off to divert a good deal of attention away from "safety" and towards living and enjoying life. The level of safety-nazi-ism is ridiculous. We are more than "safe" enough.

For example, I skimmed the article suggested by Isaac. It *speculates* that *maybe* electronic devices *might" account for one crash in twelve years, according to the FAA data base plus some plausible speculation. Now, in 12 years, there will be 100 million domestic flights plus some number of international flights that I can't easily find. So they *speculate* that the odds *might* be, oh, one in 150 million of dying for that reason, per flight.

The time I spent skimming the article probably exceeds my expected loss of life expectancy from this horrible and intolerable danger. Since the danger is actually utterly beneath notice, I'll pay it no further attention and go back to enjoying life in general and Freakonomics in particular.

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dratskee

Can anyone think this is accomplishing anything productive?

Maybe the same kind of person that thinks bringing toothpaste and deodorant in a carry-on -- after hearing millions of announcements that TSA will confiscate them and, in the process, hold up security for people that might actually be in a hurry to catch flights -- for the sake of writing a blog entry about it is productive.

jackvinson

The paranoid in me thinks the TSA would be much better off forcing everyone to check their luggage, liquids or not. Bring aboard one SMALL bag (briefcase or smaller), but nothing else. Faster processing through security. Less hassle getting onto airplanes. Fewer visits to the chiropractor by the passengers who carry their life around in their suitcases.

The biggest problem with this is that the airlines still don't know how to NOT lose luggage or get it to baggage claim faster than I can walk there. I flew a few weeks ago and they left my bag sitting at the airport of origin, and I had to go to *-Mart at midnight to buy clothes for the next morning. Guess who brings all his bags on the airplane again (sans toothpaste).

rasher

Even if modern cellphones transmitted on a frequency used on commerical aircraft, there is virtually no chance it could cause an accident. Wireless communications do not control any flight critical devices. And there are redundant devices and procedures for most failures a cellphone could conceivably cause. Aircraft electronics are designed to reject or warn of interference that they fly through constantly.

Some researchers recently studied cellphone use on aircraft and discovered that on almost every commerical flight, there is at least one and usually more cellphones, blackberries, or wi-fi devices operating in flight.

The largest reason for the cellphone ban is that a phone in flight is able to communicate with far more towers than it would be able to see on the ground. The cell system wasn't designed for it and isn't licensed by the FCC for use at altitude. A cellphone in the air can cause interference to ground devices and spectrum saturation over a far wider area than they are supposed to be able to.

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Blr Bytes

Heh. This is funny. If you're interested, the Full Article Here is here.

Jacob Oscarson

> Can anyone think this is accomplishing anything productive?

Some people would find the increased fear of terrorists caused by excessive security measures among the passengers productive.

slyght

when i left india about a month ago, i had to go through FOUR checkpoints. the first 3 checkpoints let me through fine. i was checked the final time ON the jetway. at that checkpoint, they took my deodorant (i apologize to the people on my 15-hour flight), my chapstick, my contact solution, and ALL my batteries (no bose noise-canceling headphones on that flight).

that had no specific explanation for any of the items being removed, despite the deodorant and chapstick being neither liquid or paste. and the batteries, i just don't get that. they were joking about selling everything outside the airport tomorrow.

kelan

> Can anyone think this is accomplishing anything productive?

What it accomplishes is to keep the citizenry ever aware that "we're doing more to keep you safe!" and to make sure they know why they need to be kept safe. The fearmongering makes it much easier to get unconstitional laws passed, like the PATRIOT Act and the recent no-warrant wiretapping bill. The administration wants us scared, because scared people don't think cleary and they are much easier to manipulate.

turbidity

Mythbusters did a test on the whole cellphone interference thing and found it to be pretty much nonexistent, but they concluded, why take the chance? Also, I'm glad if people don't yak on their cell phones during the flight.

lfstevens

The preflight announcement has only one real purpose, and that's to calm everyone down. It's a ritual, and that's what rituals do. I suspectd that the silliness about the water was first devised in the early days to respond to the fears of transatlantatic passengers ("what if we land in the ocean?")

The cellphone ban isn't about the plane, it's about the ground. Cellphone forwarders aren't designed to have conversations flitting so quickly from tower to tower.

Airport security is of a different order. Cockpit doors and defiant passengers (the mostly mythical air marshalls are also for peace of mind, not for security) will forever prevent a repeat of 9/11, trying to keep explosives (e.g., liquids and other bombs/bomb materials) out makes sense because planes can still blow up in flight. I do not look forward to the appearance of laptop and cellphone bombs...

supercargo

Its just a matter of time before the terrorists come up with a way of making photo id, boarding pass and travel document bombs. When the day comes, hopefully the policy makers at TSA's collective heads explode.

clairesbaker

You are SO lucky...they let you keep your contact lens solution. I got my almost empty bottle of eye drops taken away last time. I've never heard of an explosive being made with three drops of something, but whatever they need to make it safer...I guess.

diego

To Levitt and Dubner:

About radiating electronic equipment... you area of expertice is social science.

This is engineering. Are you willing to risk your life by leaving your cellphones on just because you've done it before and nothing happened? I haven't seen in this article any terms like: Hertz, armonics, electromagnetic interference, GPS...

You don't know what you are talking about, stop spreading ignorance, talking about matters you don't master in a blog as read as this one is plain irresponsible, stick to economics.

I'm an electrical engineer, do as I do, turn of your cellphones. If you have to work with your laptop, turn of the Wifi, if you don't know how, find out before you fly. Its about your own safety.

Rob_15

All my information is coming from Mythbusters and Wikipedia, so I'm not an expert, but they found cell phones were a danger to airline safety:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MythBusters_(season_3)

Myth statement Status Notes
The ban on cell phones on aircraft is designed to force passengers to use the expensive in-flight phones. Busted It was found that cell phone signals, specifically those in the 800-900 MHz range, did intefere with unshielded cockpit instrumentation. Because older aircraft with unshielded wiring can be affected, and because of the possible problems that may arise by having many airborne cell phones "seeing" multiple cell phone towers, the FCC (via enforcement through the FAA) still deems it best to err on the safe side and prohibit the use of cell phones while airborne.

Levitt and Dubner may be getting to smart for their own good. Turn your cell phones and Ipods off already.

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