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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cells on a Plane!

It seems two airlines, Quantas and Ryanair (an Irish budget airline) are experimenting with allowing cell phone calls, text messaging and e-mail on their flights.

The typical discussion here is preditable: who wants to be stuck between two chatterboxes on conference calls all the way to London, but this is hollow criticism - everyone who complains about it wouldn't think twice if it were their conference call.

Here's a better question: we're worried about people bringing down the plane with hair gel and/or nail clippers. Isn't a cell phone a well established triggering mechanism for explosives? (Come to think of it, is this already a problem that no one has bothered to bring up? Hmmmm......)

posted by Brian at 11:14 PM


  • Not to mention that the phone itself -- or a slightly larger device like a PDA -- would make a pretty nifty casing for a bomb in and of itself. As I recall, the bomb in that plane that was brought down over Scotland back in the '80s was contained in a Walkman...

    By Anonymous jason, at 11:40 AM, September 08, 2006  

  • A good point. Although that risk exists today and is (supposedly) mitigated by the fact that the cellphone/PDA has to go through the X-Ray machine. Anyone have any confidence that the TSA guy can tell the innards of a cellphone from the innards of a bomb?

    The remote trigger idea is a newer problem, I think. Assuming you can't remote trigger a bomb unless they give you a cellular signal on the plane (anyone know for sure?), this new "feature" would be like handing a guy with a fuse a lit match, no?

    By Blogger Brian, at 3:36 PM, September 08, 2006  

  • Okay....

    1) planes get *great* cellular reception as is, you don't need to "provide" it on the plane. The reason you generally can't use your cell phone while airborne is not that it won't work, but that it works too well. That is, you'll have direct line-of-sight with about a hundred or more cell towers, and your phone will attempt to register with all of them. Cell networks don't like that.

    Note that at 600 mph, you might not be able to have a conversation as you'll be switching cells too frequently. But someone calling you will certainly be able to ring your phone, and that's the voltage jump that makes it a trigger.

    2) That being said -- a cell phone is a great trigger when it's checked as luggage. When the cell phone is in the hand of the guy with the bomb, what do you need a remote trigger for? Unless he doesn't know he's carrying a bomb... in which case, you're better off just putting the thing on a timer.

    Porten verdict: it makes as much sense to ban cell phones for safety as it does to ban your shoes.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 12:48 AM, September 09, 2006  

  • the scenario I was thinking of was cell phone in the cargo hold (trigger for the bomb) and cell phone with the passenger (to activate the trigger). They ask you to keep your phone off during the flight today, and I assume if someone was dialing a phone, it might arouse the suspicion of a) the air marshall, b) the crew, or c) the other passengers, although probably not enough suspicion or with enough time to do anything about it.

    Agreed that it's silly to ban them. Besides, we don't ban anything on planes until after someone tries to blow the plane up with it...

    By Blogger Brian, at 12:53 AM, September 09, 2006  

  • If you've got a cell phone in the cargo hold, why activate it from the plane? Do it from the ground at your leisure. Heck, you could even use Skype.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 6:47 PM, September 09, 2006  

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