In these post-September 11 days, when we think of airline security, we tend to think about screening passengers for weapons and using technologies such as CAPPS (the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System) to determine a threat assessment for each passenger. However, on a recent flight to Chicago, as I watched the people around me break out their laptops and plug into their MP3 and DVD players as soon as we reached cruising altitude, it occurred to me that there are many types of security with which the airlines (and those of us who fly on them) should be concerned.
I considered the fact that in the case under my seat, I had a Tablet PC, an iPAQ 4155 and a mobile phone. All duly turned off and stowed away during takeoff and landing, per the flight attendant’s instructions. But then, I tend to be pretty compliant regarding laws and regulations. What about all those other electronic devices on the plane?
We’re told that the reason we can’t use our gadgets and toys until we reach cruising altitude is because they might interfere with the airplane’s navigation controls. Now there’s a scary thought, if you take a moment to actually think about. If my laptop can interfere with flight controls during takeoff and landing, isn’t there a possibility that it could do the same during level flight? I was told by an Australian acquaintance recently that their airlines prohibit use of computers at any time during a flight. If it’s not safe for them to turn on the laptop after the seatbelt light goes off, why is it safe for us?
And do you really believe that everybody on the plane remembers to turn off their cell phones and the wireless transmitters on their handhelds (if they even know how) every time during takeoff and landing? Is the fourteen year old listening to the radio through her earphones and not paying any attention to the flight attendant going to cause my plane to crash on approach to the runway?
Makes you wonder if those devices really pose the threat we’re told they do. If so, should they even be allowed in the cabin at all?
But things may get even more complicated soon. Some airlines have already begun offering high speed Internet access during flight. Lufthansa was one of the first, at $19.99 to $29.99 per flight, or $9.99 for half an hour. The service will undoubtedly become more common over the next few years (unless, of course, ‘Net-connected airplanes start falling out of the sky for no reason). I’m just as excited as the next guy about the prospect of surfing the Web or VPNing back to the home network from 30,000 feet, but I can’t help but wonder what new challenges and problems this will bring. Now, in addition to worrying about our seat-mates reading our computer screens from the side, will we need to worry about being hacked by the guy over in 17A?
Technology is advancing quickly – perhaps more quickly than we can keep up with it. It certainly gives you something to think about as you stare out the window at the tops of the clouds.