When a Cell Phone Rings…in the Cockpit

The debate continues about whether inflight use of electronics–specifically cell phones–poses a safety risk. As the FCC and the FAA ponder this issue, the flying public seems doubtful about the risk but fearful that allowing cell phones inflight might just add to the unpleasantness of air travel. Meanwhile, Dallas Morning News airlines reporter Terry Maxon received some interesting letters from pilots who had experienced aircraft irregularities that seemed clearly linked to cell phone usage–sometimes even their own phones, which they had forgotten to turn off. What happens when the pilot’s cell phone rings inflight? Ooops. Read the letters here.

PreCheck’s expansion: Good or bad?

The TSA announced last week that it plans to expand its successful PreCheck program so that travelers can apply for an airline-agnostic “membership” that will cost $85 for five years. The agency can be applauded for taking a program that has been universally applauded and availing it to more participants. All good, right?

Not necessarily. I’m a little distrustful about a couple of things.  First, I wonder how great the impact will be. I’m sure (well, I hope) they’ve run the numbers. But the fact is that the majority of air passengers fly only a few times a year (at most). The program does not necessarily make sense for these passengers, or for families that would pay hundreds of dollars to participate together.

Second, if the expansion is successful, I fear an onslaught of participants will negate the biggest benefit: no lines. Yes, it’s nice not to remove shoes/laptop, but this will be less of a luxury after waiting in a long line. But perhaps they will be able to pull off expanded or reallocated staffing.

I’m going to be optimistic and hope this expansion works, but I admit I’m distrustful. The TSA is a little like a bad boyfriend: I hope that “this time will be different.”

Go-Go or no-no?

I learned yesterday that inflight Wi-Fi provider Go-Go is charging up to $26.95 for a full-flight fee. “Is this too much?” a friend of mine wondered into the Twitterverse. My first reaction was, “Yes!” But the question caused me to think about my own inflight Wi-Fi use and how it’s changed over the few years since Go-Go first became available. I was an early adopter, but my use has waned. Is $26.95 too much? For me, the price is irrelevant because I am reimbursed by my company. Yet, I increasingly choose not to use inflight Wi-Fi.

When Go-Go was first introduced, I’ll admit that I logged on occasionally when I didn’t even need to. It was a “Why not?” universe. I found all sorts of cool activities that became even cooler at 30,000 feet.  I used an app that labeled the landmarks you were flying over. What a thrill! I tweeted. 140 characters were never more fun! Even work was made more pleasurable with the novelty of emailing from the sky.

In those early days of Go-Go, there were plenty of promotions to attract new customers, and I’ll admit that the months when Alaska Airlines offered free Wi-Fi, I took full advantage. Every flight.

But I notice that my interest gradually softened. The honeymoon ended. The initial thrill of connection disappeared, replaced with, “I would really love to relax.” I notice that while I publicly disparage United for being mostly Wi-Fi free, secretly I am a little relieved to be on their flights—“Not my fault: I have no choice but be disconnected.” (And it’s particularly satisfying because I get to blame United.)

On my last trip, several free Go-Go passes—swag from a recent conference–were tucked in my laptop bag. I thought for a moment about using one, then decided against. Even free wasn’t enough to get me motivated to go online. I reached instead for a book and enjoyed the flight. At one point I took a break from reading and stared out the window at all we passed over. I was in awe to see Crater Lake come into view, which would be my vacation destination in a few weeks. Go-Go inflight to catch up on email? $26.95. Crater Lake from 30,000 feet? Priceless.