Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oh, You Disingenuous Bastards, You!

No, no I’m not talking about the healthcare thing.

No, I’m not talking about the politicians.

…though, come to think of it, I guess the title of this post would work for that too.

No, I’m talking about Alaskan Airlines.

Alaskan Airlines To Offer WiFi On All Aircraft.

Oh, I don’t think so.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m all about connectivity. I’m all about WiFi while travelling. And I’m nine kinds of enthusiastic about being able to post updates to Things That Chap My Ass About Air Travel from in the actual air (or while marooned on the runway in Chicago for ten hours in a blizzard with the ripe stench of overflowing lavatories and strapped in next to a guy that reeks of aromatic ass and burning hemp and some fervent eyed crazed Palinista who wants to introduce me to Jesus personally).

I think the big WiFi in the Sky is a great idea and if it keeps the flying masses occupied so they annoy me less, I’m all for it. 

I think it’ll come in very handy in a variety of situations. It’ll be terrific for business people and bloggers and writers and the average Joe.  Or in a terrorist takeover, it could damned useful then.  Say you’re a suicide bomber, WiFi and Twitter could be a godsend, “40SweetVirgins Allah Ack… Oh DAMNIT! Hello my Jihadist Tweeps, any of U on flt483 right now? My lighter is out of fluid. Can U help a martyr out?”  See?

As an Alaskan who frequently flies Alaskan Airlines, I think it’s great idea to offer WiFi for a modest fee. 

So what’s my problem?

I’ll tell you what my problem is – it’s the goddamned wireless part of WiFi.

Wireless, that means radio waves.

On airplanes.

Seriously, What. The. Hell?

We’ve been told for years, decades in fact, that we can’t use wireless devices on airplanes.  No phones, no GPS units, no portable TVs, no radios, no nothing that makes radio waves in any way – because, and I quote every pre-flight safety brief ever, the electromagnetic interference could jam the plane’s flight control and FUCKING KILL US ALL!  Make a phone call at the wrong moment and we end up as tomato paste surprise spread all over a corn field in Iowa, right?  Isn’t that what they’ve been telling us? Send out a tweet as the plane makes a critical maneuver and suddenly we’re plunging from 30,000 feet in a flaming death spiral!  Check your Blackberry mail while on final approach to O’Hare International and you get to experience a “water landing” in the middle of Lake Michigan and maybe find out if that seat cushion full of beer farts really does turn into a flotation device.  Use your Android to update your Facebook Wall as you leave the terminal at JFK and the plane suddenly veers off the taxiway and accelerates out of control like a Toyota Camry in a grocery store parking lot (what? Too soon?).  Sync up your Bluetooth headset and the engines will explode into giant balls of flame and shredded turbine blades, the fuselage will suffer explosive decompression, and the seven foot tall basketball player seated in front of you will suddenly recline his seat in defiance of FAA regulations and jam your spleen into your spine, and every baby on the plane will burst into red faced hysterical screaming and bubbling snot filled crying at the same exact moment! It’ll be terror at 20,000 feet!  Death! Chaos! Aaaaaaah!

Well, that’s how they make it sound.

But now suddenly, Alaskan and other airlines are offering WiFi

Suddenly it’s just OK for three hundred passengers to fire up their laptops and surf the internet while in flight?  Suddenly it’s perfectly fine to literally bath the interior of the aircraft in RF energy?  The skies will be full of connected passengers downloading airline maintenance records and playing video poker.  HULU videos will replace that insipid in-flight magazine.  And I don’t even want to speculate about the weird guy who took his laptop into the lavatory ten minutes ago.

It’s just OK now?  What the hell happened?

I see two possibilities: either a) The airlines spent hundreds of billions converting all of their flight controls and fly-by-wire systems to EM hardened, RF shielded, surge impervious C2 like something from a cold war nuclear bomber, or b) the bastards were lying to us right from the very first time Orville and Wilbur soared off that sand dune at Kitty Hawk.

Frankly, the odds are that it’s probably the second option. Just saying.

Which begs the question, what else are these sons of bitches lying to us about?

I’ll tell you, once you’re on to them, it’s easy to spot the discrepancies:

“Northwest Airlines regrets to inform passengers on Flight 1542 that there will be a slight delay while we fix a minor maintenance issue…”  Riiiight. The maintenance crew dropped a wrench into the engine and they can’t find it, didn’t they?

“…we’re should have you on your way shortly…”  We’re number 53 for take-off.

“Here’s your snack box, Sir…” Listen, bitch, yogurt and a handful of raisins isn’t a snack.  I bet those pricks up in 1st class are getting microwave pizza rolls, corn dogs, and a deli tray. And while we’re on it, two tiny pretzels and a little plastic cup of warm ginger ale isn’t cutting it.  I paid $1400 for this flight, the least you can do is pick me up a turkey hoagie and some fucking Doritos on your way into work.

“Would you like a blanket?” Blanket? Blanket? Blanket for who? Keebler Elves?  That ain’t no blanket, I’ve got hankies bigger than that.

“Delta Airlines regrets that Flight 425 with service to Miami will be delayed due to weather…”  Uh huh.  The pilots showed up smelling of Tequila and cheap prostitutes again, didn’t they?  From the other side of that locked door you can hear, “C’mon Capt’n Bob, drink the coffee, you’ve got a 9:02 and you’re late.” “No, don’t wanna!” Do not be concerned, everything is under control.

“We guarantee that only highly trained and professional security personnel will be examining your person in the full body scanner.  Pictures cannot be stored or downloaded…” to internet porn sites. Trust us.

“Whoa, sorry there folks! We’re experiencing a little ‘clear air’ turbulence…”  Turbulence, another word for “Holy fucking Shit! Where’d that 747 come from! Turn! Turn!”

“I’m sorry, Sir, there are no Emergency Exit Row seats left…” You lying whore

“Gooood Morning, Folks, this is Capt’n Pudknocker from the cockpit.  Blah blah blah yabber yabber babble babble and thanks for flying with us today. We know you have a choice when it comes to air travel and we sure appreciate you choosing Continental today!”  Choice? What choice? We didn’t spend $700 so we could end up shoehorned into this sardine can because we had a fucking choice, you dolt.

“…you should have plenty of time to make your connecting flight at LAX…”  if you’re an Olympic sprinter.

“…and again we’re sorry for the inconvenience and you may redeem this $400 voucher on any future US Airways flight or that of our Blue Star Brown Ring of Quality partners…”  Some restrictions apply.

“…oxygen will be flowing, even though the bag does not inflate…” Sure and it’ll smell just like vacuum.

“…the National Transportation Safety Board’s crash investigation has determined that this issue is not a problem with other aircraft, however it is recommending a voluntary upgrade to the non-explosive flux-capacitors…” Take the train.


Frankly, I don’t trust anything these people say.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put my tray table in the upright and locked position and secure my electronics for takeoff…


  1. My favorite line from the cockpit: "I don't want to worry you, but there will be precautionary fire trucks along the runway as we land."

    They put out a lot of firetrucks.

  2. You would have loved our Air New Zealand flight last year. The flight crew was totally honest. First we were delayed because a service truck hit the plane. It looked like just a little drain was damaged but the pilot felt they should have everything checkout out. Yep little drain so they were calling to see about a replacement. Ok they say they have a replacement but pilot says we won't really know until it arrives. OK it's the right one so we're going to put it on. It will take a while but nothing is open in the airport so we'll give you cookies at 2:30 in the morning then wine and hot meal in the air so we can relax while we eat. Finally the pilot comes on and says the repair has been completed and he's inspected it and signed off so we'll be taking off. Then we had wine and hot meal. Air New Zealand rocks!

    The play by play was refreshingly honest but I wondered how much maintenance training the pilot of these big planes have.

    undecos - I mean underclothes

  3. Your possibilities fail to account for the actual answer:

    (c) the new treaty with the Arcturans means that airplanes at high altitudes no longer need to maintain silence at certain radio frequencies to evade abduction by The Grays' slave ships.

    By the way, and not because I have any kind of "inside information" (quite the contrary, I insist!), now would be a good time to hoard water. It's going to... possibly... substantially increase in value in approximately two weeks, five days, seventeen hours and roughly twenty-eight minutes.


    You're really gonna regret all the times you double flushed, seriously, like you were sending pure gold down the plumbing. Just saying.

  4. Way to get on the "no fly" list, Jim.

    thets = I can't tell you what it means unless you've cleared into the higher echelons of Scientology.

  5. No, the airline said they thought this was funny. They promised there would be no reprisal. Promised.

  6. You have no idea how much I wish you'd make your stats tracker public.

  7. You do know that all capacitors are flux capacitors? Everyone thinks that Doc Brown's description of time travel is complete malarkey, but all capacitors are flux capacitors and "jiggawatts" is the European pronunciation of gigawatts (a unit of a billion watts).

    And my airline pilot hero is the copilot who got off a flight I was on recently to personally grab someone to (a) get the sticks and guide them in and (b) fine SOMEONE to drive the damned jetway over.

    Dr. Phil

    indecil -- an indecisive imbecile.

  8. I was on a flight to Chicago once when half the passengers and all of the flight crew came down with debilitating cases of food poisoning. There was nobody on the plane capable of landing it, but this really annoying flight attendant knew that one of the passengers was, in fact a retired Navy flyer. She talked him into landing the plane in spite of his fears, a horrendous thunderstorm and one 'sploded engine. We never found out how he felt about gladiators, but we did learn his name; that man was Ted Striker.

    But that was way back in 1980. Since then, I've only flown with assholes.

  9. Have you ever seen a grown man naked?

  10. That would be door #2, Mr. Wright. I read years ago that there has never been a shred of evidence that RF of any kind, nor wireless anything of any flavor, interferes with the plane's navigation systems. They made that up, because once someone noticed something weird was happening with the flux capacitors and JUST IN CASE it had to do with cell phones, we should all panic. BTW, American already has WiFi. It blows, but there you have it.

  11. Jim, I know I disagreed with you on the facilitator post, but I wonder if back when portable electronics were becoming common there wasn't a conversation at FAA headquarters that ran along the lines of...

    Engineer: "You know, it's probably nothing, but we should really check to see if these transistor radios and portable TVs can interfere with navigation equipment."
    Senior FAA guy: "You're right, but we don't have the money to run the tests right now. And it's not like anyone would want to watch TV on an airplane anyways, hahaha. Let's just restrict those devices until someone has the time to check for interference."
    Memos pass down the chain...
    FAA Public Relations guy with no engineering or aviation background: "Electronic Devices crash airplanes!!!"

    Joking aside, @Dr.Q there have been instances where aircraft with systems susceptible to RF interference have been put into service. The 707-300 series for example, had an ABS system that could be locked open by certain HF transmissions...* Admittedly, brakes aren't navigation systems, but they're sometimes important. ;)

    @cass_m- I am a (cargo) airline pilot. Speaking of my company only, we don't get any formal maintenance training... We do get pretty extensive training on system operation and trouble shooting, and have to pass a refresher each year... but it's a pretty different skill set to, say, react correctly to a loss of oil pressure in an engine during flight, and to fix that engine after the plane has been landed. Or to identify that a drainage tube has been bent out of shape, and to replumb a replacement through the pressure vessel.

    I can see where if I had to talk to the general public, I might call a 'aft hydraulic fluid overflow port' a 'little drain' because the latter is something readily understood. The ANZ mechanic doing the replacement certainly got a more detailed squawk. :)


    *- Airworthiness directive 66-22-01 (http://www.airweb.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgAD.nsf/0/746DFBE96004720A8625682E005A8197?OpenDocument) mandated that the 707's HF radio not be used during taxi, takeoff, and landing unless an interference filter was installed. I have in my book collection a memoir where the captain talked about one of the runway over-runs and follow-on investigation that led to that AD(1), but I couldn't find the relevant NTSB reports or other description of the incidents online. (Unfortunately, it's sometimes hard to find information on non-fatal airplane accidents from the 1960s on the internet!)

    (1)- Reilly, Vincent. 2007. "A Life of Flight" p 87-95.

  12. Actually Electromagnetic radiation, particularly that within the communications band, is something that I know a great deal about. It is the very heart of my particular military specialty.

    This post was, of course, strictly tongue in cheek.

    I seriously doubt that any reasonable RF source generated by consumer electronics could produce enough EMI to interfere with the plane's flight controls, more likely it would be the other way around. And I believe there is a large amount of empirical data to support that - and in fact I was involved in the testing of certain high power emitters onboard military platforms.

    HOWEVER, that said, I fully support the concept of erring on the side of caution.

    But, unless somebody comes onboard with a 30 foot antenna I doubt you have to worry about RF in the HF band from passenger compartment (of course you could get HF from a shorter active antenna, but the power source tends to be non-man portable) (HF is 3-30MHZ, or 100meters to 10meters, you need a full multiple of the wavelength to transmit, unless you have a powered antenna) Of course TF was talking about the plane's long range HF transmitter, that's a totally different animal, powerful and with external antennas. Certainly could cause EMI in exposed circuits. We have the same problem on ships, where the antennas are clustered tightly around electronics and sensor receptors. EMI is always an issue.

  13. And my airline pilot hero is the copilot who got off a flight I was on recently to personally grab someone to (a) get the sticks and guide them in and (b) fine SOMEONE to drive the damned jetway over.

    On a similar note, coming back into Atlanta (the world's busiest airport) after New Year's our gate was on the center corner next to the roadway under the terminals for all the ground traffic.

    We taxi to just across the marked roadway from the gate and wait... and wait... and wait... other planes are stacking up behind us, at this point we're blocking half the gates to this terminal.

    Now bear in mind we're directly in the line of sight of Delta's terminal-level tower that directs aircraft on the ground.

    No one shows up. Pilot pulls up a little. Still no gate crew. Pilot apologizes for the delay. Still no activity at the gate. Pilot pulls the nose of the plane into the roadway, gets interesting as baggage convoys & buses slow down to go around our nose. Nada, no response.

    So after being ignored for about 15 minutes the pilot comes on, says he doesn't think they know we're in position and he's going to get their attention. He simply pulls up into the middle of the roadway, effectively blocking all FOUR directions for both aircraft & ground traffic. To the cheers of all of us on the plane!!

    In less than a minute people were running to the gate to bring us in. People waiting to board the plane at the gate didn't look too happy about what they'd just witnessed out the windows.

    Of course you know the gate crew got their revenge, we waited almost 45 minutes for our luggage to surface at baggage claim. And that was after most of us made pit-stops on our way over!

  14. Wi-Fi I can live with. Letting the jerk next to me blab away on his cellphone- hell, no!

  15. Cell phones are already allowed on some EU flights. If anything's going to get effed up by WiFi or cellphone use, it's the fly-by-wire controls on the EU Airbus fleets.

    The continuing prohibition in the US was probably an overabundance of caution followed by the airlines lobbying to keep it in place so they can charge for onboard access to telcom networks using their own phone networks.

    Plus fears of windbag cellphone users not quieting down when instructed.


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