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December 17, 2004

Airline security, in-flight cell phones and knitting needles

I've traveled every week except for one since about mid-October, and I've got a few observations. A couple of days ago I heard a news story that cell phones had been approved for use on airplanes by the FCC. It is expected that they could be allowed by the FAA by 2006. I'm a pilot, though not current, and I still read the aviation newsletters. There does seem to be some anecdotal evidence that cell phones and other devices have caused problems with navigation systems, which is why they were banned in the first place. Some say they were banned to protect the airphone revenue, but I do believe there was some legitimate concern for safety. Which brings me to airline security. If a cell phone could potentially bring down a plane, why are the airlines letting us on with our phones, laptops and PDAs, but making us throw away our pin knives?

I've always thought that much of the security efforts in the airport are there just to make people feel better about traveling. Brian Doherty wrote a great article on John Gilmore, a multi-millionaire (Sun Microsystems employee number five) who is suing the government to try to protect our rights to privacy. Here is an email from John Gilmore describing how British Airways ejected him from a flight for wearing a button that said "Suspected Terrorist". (As I write this a flight attendant is standing next to me in the aisle and I'm wondering if even writing the word "Terrorist" could get me ejected from the flight.)

I wouldn't mind the extra security measures if I thought they did any good, but what is the logic in taking away a person's safety razor but letting the young woman board with 12" anodized aluminum knitting needles? They are definitely on the list of things my Mom warned could poke my eye out. I've noticed this twice in the past couple of weeks and the flight attendants see them, so they are being allowed.

We've also seen a couple of stories lately about the crack security teams losing their training bombs. In the Newark case the bomb was fake, but in the Paris case it was real explosives that went missing. The article mentions that in tests the screeners in Newark missed one in four bombs planted in luggage. Can you imagine getting home from a trip, opening your suitcase and finding a real bomb? How do you explain that and who do you report it to?

I see that Lufthansa is now offering wireless internet access on their flights out of Denver. Has anyone tried using a VoIP SIP phone on their laptop to make what would probably be a legal call from the air? By the way, I'm not in favor of allowing people to use cell phones in flight. Travel is tough enough without having to sit in the middle seat listening to somebody yak about whatever it is people find SO IMPORTANT that they just can't possibly wait until they have some privacy.

I guess I'm done. The woman in front of me just leaned her seat back into my lap and since I'm up against the back bulkhead, it is really awkward to type. At least she isn't talking on the phone too.

December 17, 2004 | Permalink


Nice blog Terry! I read an article last year that said it was the cell phone industry that prompted the FAA to ban cell phones on planes. The theory being that they were afraid that early cell technology couldn’t handle 100’s of cell phone users dropping in and out of cells as they flew across the country. They told the FAA they weren’t sure cell phones wouldn’t affect avionics, so the FAA banned them. Seemed to make sense.

Posted by: Esley Gustafson | Dec 22, 2004 9:17:52 PM