Cell phones and the plane truth

Posted: Thursday, May 06, 2004

Techwit By Jason Ohler

I was somewhere between San Diego and Chicago, aboard a jet airplane 33,000 feet in the air, when I realized that I had done the unthinkable: I'd left my cell phone on.

For those of you who don't fly, you can't imagine the terror that filled me. Today's no-nonsense flight attendants order us to turn our cell phones off because they interfere with the plane's navigation systems. Apparently, a call from your broker mid-flight could send hundreds of innocent passengers hurtling to their deaths. Turning my cell phone off always seemed like such a small thing to ask, so I always complied. But not this time.

At first, it was an honest mistake. I simply forgot to turn it off. But slowly it became a cause. I never really thought flight attendants were being honest about the cell phone thing. It was the tone of voice they used, sounding like parents trying to convince their kids that sex was evil. And I knew for a fact that needing to have your seat and tray table in their upright and locked positions was a bunch of hogwash they'd been foisting on us for decades. Once I left my tray down and my seat leaning all the way back while we landed in Buffalo, just to see what would happen. Everything was just fine. I was such a rebel then.

Maybe I wasn't a rebel anymore, but my ability to rationalize was as good as ever. My cell phone was in my suit coat, which I'd stuffed in the overhead compartment. If I tried to get it I might drop something on a passenger, which could incite pandemonium. Besides, I actually saw someone using a cell phone on a flight to Reno recently. Other than experiencing a little extra turbulence, everything was normal. And why aren't we concerned about using garage door openers and microwave ovens in the vicinity of an airport? For that matter, why aren't we concerned that the plane's navigation system will interfere with its navigation system? Heck with it. I left my cell phone on.

When we landed I was met by a group of large, serious men in black trench coats who ushered me into a dimly lit room. It was filled with dozens of people who had that remorseful "I left my cell phone on" look on their faces. I waited quietly, terrified but trying hard not to show it. Eventually, everyone was released after providing a DNA sample and names of other cell phone violators. Everyone except me. I didn't know any violators so I gave the authorities the name of a guy at work I didn't like. They weren't buying it. As the biggest security guard in the room looked me in the eye and rubbed his night stick I could tell things were about to turn ugly.

"I'm sorry that I left my cell phone on," I told him in my best macho voice. "It happens."

"It's part of a pattern I'm trained to look out for," he told me.

"What pattern?" I exclaimed.

"There's the matter of leaving your tray table down and seat back when you landed in Buffalo," he said. "The man sitting across the aisle from you turned you in. And why didn't you tell us about the guy using his cell phone on the flight to Reno? Aren't you proud to be an American?"

After pretending to be sorry and agreeing to snitch on my friends, they let me go. But secretly I promised myself that whenever I flew I was going to bring my TV remote and click that thing on and off from LA to New York. If you are in my flight path and your TV starts acting up, my apologies.

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