'Captain' Baldwin Breaks the Code

Alec Baldwin by David Shankbone
Alec Baldwin is forcing the airlines and the FAA to answer some tough questions. (Photo: David Shankbone)
Monday, December 19, 2011 - 2:00pm

Oh, Alec! You’ve gone and done it now. When you got kicked off that American Airlines flight on December 6 because you didn’t want to turn off your phone and stop playing Words With Friends and got mad at the flight attendant and slammed the bathroom door, well, you exposed the airlines’ dirty little secret, didn’t you?

The secret? Not only do they have no idea whether personal electronic devices cause problems to aircraft electronics, they also know that enough flights have flown safely with a lot of devices inadvertently left on that there obviously isn’t a problem. I’m not the first to point this out; Nick Bilton did so ably in his New York Times blog post.

But you, you American treasure—Alec Baldwin—with your rude behavior (which we secretly admire; aren’t we all tired of the flying police constantly telling us to do this, that and if you don’t mind I need to feel you up before you get on that airplane), you let the cat out of the bag and are forcing the airlines and the FAA to answer some tough questions.

Like, why is it that the pilots get to use iPads—during takeoff and landing no less—and we have to turn ours off? Aren’t the pilots a lot closer, umm, right next to those critical electronics? If iPads are so heinous, wouldn’t the FAA have told pilots that they can’t use them to read charts and look up stuff in their manuals? (I wonder if the FAA specifically says that pilots can’t read the iPad version of their favorite magazine or newspaper while cruising along, sipping a fresh cup of coffee? When everything goes right, flying, especially long distances, can be pretty darn boring.)

And why, if personal electronic devices could cause so much trouble, haven’t we seen any evidence of that? No crashed airplanes, no landing on the wrong runway, no “Whoops, I meant to turn right and the airplane turned left.” Nope, pilots do all that stuff by themselves plenty often; they haven’t even tried to blame personal devices as far as I’ve seen, reading accident reports over many years.

So, Alec, thank you, by the way, for your cute appearance on Saturday Night Live (December 11, it’s still available on Hulu, about 37 minutes in), pretending to be American Airlines Captain Steve Rogers apologizing to…Alec Baldwin. (FYI, you were wearing a first officer’s uniform with three stripes; captains get four, but no biggie, you were still pretty funny.) And you (playing the captain) said, “What harm would it do to let him keep playing his game? Not any game, mind you, but a word game for smart people.”

What harm indeed? It’s time for the airline industry and the FAA to acknowledge once and for all that an iPhone or iPad or smartphone in airplane mode is safe. And that having a phone or Kindle on your lap during takeoff or landing is as safe as reading a heavy hardback book, which isn’t prohibited.

By the way, I did ask the FAA why it’s OK for pilots to have iPads in the cockpit but not for passengers to turn theirs on during takeoff and landing. The FAA believes that the tests it requires of the airlines, including testing iPads with specific aircraft, plus allowing only a limited number of devices for pilots is much safer than a few hundred passengers all watching movies or reading ebooks at the same time.

Well, sorry, has anyone ever tested that? I’d like to know. And as Alec Baldwin/Captain Steve Rogers said on Saturday Night Live, “Would you really get on an airplane that flew 30,000 feet in the air if you thought one Kindle switch could take it down? Come on! It’s a cruel joke perpetrated by the airline industry. And we would have gotten away with it, but Alec Baldwin was just too smart for us. He really is something.”

Yes, you really are something, Alec. But, dude! Aren’t you like, rich? Why would you even think about flying on the airlines? Haven’t you heard about private jets? Wouldn’t you like to try one?

Call me. I’ll hook you up. And guess what? You can play Words With Friends or slam the bathroom door as hard as you want in your own jet.

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