Friday, October 8, 2010

Vibrating Cell Phones and Small Planes

I headed back to Texas last weekend for a reunion with my peeps in Austin, a chance to savor the second weekend of fall in our favorite city. The weather actually behaved like autumn, a rare event in Central Texas — where fall usually doesn’t arrive until mid-November and leaves in early February.

Winter: Fuggedaboutit. It doesn’t actually exist in Austin.

But the air was crisp enough in the mornings that my Beautiful Mystery Companion and I were scrambling for outerwear for our morning walk, reveling in the fact that we were forced to do so. I had flown there, while she had driven the five hours west from East Texas.

I’ve been flying more often this year than ever before, because the BMC is still in East Texas, and I’m in Kansas. I am grateful that a well-run and convenient small airport is 15 minutes from my house in Junction City, meaning I can print out my boarding pass the night before and show up 30 minutes before the plane takes off. Plus there’s free parking at Manhattan Regional.

I have taken this trip to Dallas and then either to East Texas or to other rendezvous points roughly a dozen times in the past six months. The folks who work at the airport are familiar faces. The ruddy-faced fellow who operates the scanner gives out stickers to little kids after everyone is seated in the sole gate area. The young woman who checks baggage when I’m forced to do so — and I try not to since it’s $50 for one bag on a round trip — also waves the orange traffic directors on the tarmac as the jet backs out to head to Dallas. She has double duty.

Most flights are at least one-third filled with soldiers from Fort Riley. Some soldiers coming back to Manhattan are met with excited spouses and children, greeting a soldier coming home on R&R. They’re invariably holding digital cameras and signs inked on poster boards, held by the children. It’s a humbling sight to see those families, waiting for their loved one, home for just a little while.

The small jets have a single flight attendant to attend to the 50 or so passengers. Most flights are full, or close to it. She (so far it’s always been a female) plays a recording with the standard safety message about emergency exits, buckling up, using the seat cushion as a flotation device, to turn off all electronic devices.

I check and make sure the iPhone in my pocket is off. Yep. For some reason, I always get sleepy as the jet prepares to pull out and take off. I doze off until we begin hurtling down the runway. Then I say a silent prayer and watch out the window until we’re safely in the air, enjoying the top-down view of the terrain. On this trip I think I finally figured out when we were crossing over the Red River as it snakes between Texas and Oklahoma, though it could have been another ribbon of water seen from 26,000 feet.

I started to doze again, then jerked forward. The Blackberry. I had completely forgotten about the accursed second cell phone in my briefcase, stowed beneath the seat in front of me, my feet propped upon it. It’s my work phone and rarely rings on weekends away. Out of sight, etc. What to do?

The phone was buried inside a bulky canvas Land’s End briefcase. There would be no subtle way to pull it out and turn it off, especially seated in Row 5, Seat A. I would be outed as a miscreant. For the next 45 minutes, every time the plane bumped in the turbulence, I imagined it was my cell phone accidentally left on that was fouling up the plane’s electronics.

We landed safely, of course. Just seconds after we touched down, I could feel a vibration beneath my feet. The Blackberry had found a tower and was relaying a voicemail from a few hours earlier. Since we were now allowed to turn our phones on, I listened to the message, which of course was of no consequence.

I went online to judge the risk at which I had put my fellow passengers. Little or none, it turns out. The prevailing wisdom appears to be that airlines figure there are always a few doofuses who forget to turn off their phones. It’s the fear of 50 disparate cell signals seeking towers that make airlines nervous.

Lesson learned, though. I will turn off all phones well before getting on a plane. I can’t take the guilt, and I’m certainly not important enough that a phone call can’t wait.

Originally published in the Junction City (Kansas) Daily Union, October 9, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. whew. so glad the plane didn't crash! also glad to know that it takes more than just one to crash the plane, just on case I forget (it could happen, you never know!) thanks for doing the research for us!