Recently I was on yet another flight, trying to get some e-mail done. This time, however, I was answering e-mail offline on my SmartPhone. Of course, the phone was in flight mode so the radio was off. I wouldn’t want to “interfere with the aircrafts navigation and communication systems.” Needless to say, this was not nearly sufficient for the flight attendant, who proceeded to lecture me on how important it is that all cell phones be turned off lest they “interfere with the aircrafts navigation and communication systems,” and presumably cause the plane to crash, sending all of us to a premature, fiery, and particularly violent death.
Curiously, however, a few minutes afterward, while I was listening to music on my WMA player I suddenly heard the tell-tale interference from a GSM cell phone. Turns out the guy next to me had forgotten to turn off his Palm Treo! HORROR! We must surely be heading into a death spiral any second now!
As you may be able to tell from the fact that I am actually alive to write this though, there were no terrorists yacking on their cell phone, thereby causing the plane to crash, on this particular flight. In fact, the mere notion that a device carried by 98% of the people on the flight could cause a plane to crash is ludicrous in the extreme, particularly considering that about 93% of those people are probably incapable of properly turning the device off. Talk about another case of security theater. Even the Transportation Security Administration – national enforcer of security theater – apparently does not consider cell phones a threat since they still allow us to bring them on board aircraft. Maybe this will all stop as soon as someone figures out a way to crack the battery case and use it as a deadly weapon?
At any rate, I decided to check how much trouble this particular flight was really in. I turned on my wireless network and bluetooth on my laptop. I am such a rebel! The funny thing was that the really bright blue light shone the same flight attendant that was worried about cell phones in the face about 6 times and she never seemed to see much of a problem with it. I then proceeded to scan the ether a few times to see who was communicating. I found three different wireless networks, and two bluetoth devices advertising themselves. The bluetooth devices were even advertising their owners names. Maybe I should report Stacey and Tom to the TSA? They must clearly be terrorists, using small, cheap, radio transmitters in a blatant attempt to bring down a commercial airliner!
Cell phones typically operate on frequencies like 800 MHz, 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1.8 GHz, and 1.9 GHz. Both bluetooth and 802.11b (my laptop is old and does not have 802.11a or g) operate on 2.4 GHz. I’m not a radio engineer, and maybe there is something special about the cell phone frequencies that allows them to crash aircraft while the 2.4 GHz hobbyist band does not; but I doubt it. I think the fact that every single flight in the world probably has at least one Stacey or Tom on it, and probably several, recklessly leaving their bluetooth devices turned on is proof positive that there is absolutely zero risk posed to air travel safety by cell phones or any other small radio transmitter. Heck, SAS and Lufthansa, and maybe others too, now offer ridiculously expensive wireless networking on board.
Clearly, this is just another case of security theater, acted out by people refusing to accept the obvious and question their fundamental beliefs about the things they learned years ago, which are so clearly untrue.