Thursday, July 19, 2007

Now When You Say 'Off,' What Exactly Do You Mean?

The rule says you can't have an electronic device activated during takeoff and landing. The reason, of course, is that an electronic device can potentially disrupt communications to the flight deck, after which all manner of bad things could then happen, from mistakenly landing a Seattle flight in Duluth to falling out of the sky in a fiery ball of doom. I differ in belief set from a lot of folks, but I am a fan of remaining alive, and in this I am pretty much the same as anyone else, and so you'd think people would be on board with this rule. They're not. Even though we even work it into the announcement that an electronic device is any device that has an on/off switch, every takeoff and landing there is someone who even with our help cannot define 'electronic device.'
There's the businessman who is so important to whatever company he works for that he has to be working constantly, during every available second, including the ten-minute span between boarding and takeoff. He's the guy to whom I say, "Hey, sir, when you get to a stopping point, I need you to turn that off," which earns me a 'you may go' nod, and then when I pass by him again, he's still tapping at Excel. It gives me great pleasure to stand over these businessmen and smile pleasantly while they shut off minesweeper and sulk.
There are the people that, having mastered the definiton of 'electronic device,' have moved on to the more perplexing difference between 'on' and 'off.' These Sesame Street dropouts wave their Palm Pilots around affectedly, seemingly to bait me into asking them to shut it down just so they can explain that it's got a cool 'airplane mode' feature that turns the phone part off so you can play solitare in flight. "Oh, it is off," they toss at me casually over the Backstreet Boys blasting from their brightly flashing phone. And though I'm a professional communicator and a fair hand at debate, I can never seem to explain to them in one sentence that their phone is indeed still on.

ME: No sir, the whole thing has to be off.
DUMB: But it's off... it's not transmitting.
ME: No, the entire phone has to be off. Turned off. Not operational.
DUMB: The transmit function is off.
ME: I need the phone off.
DUMB: But it--
ME: I need... the entire... phone... off.

Lately it's been the iPhoners. These guys seem to think they're above the law by virtue of their electronic device being so cool. Every time I halt an iPhoner, they launch into a demo of the device.

OVERSPENDER: But it's slim and has a revolutionary interface and does stuff when I turn it sideways--"
ME: Yes, Mr. Jobs, but I don't want to buy one. I already have a TV, DVD player and phone. Now turn it off.
OVERSPENDER: That's OK, I'll just set it to--
ME: Entirely off.

Maybe Bill Clinton's to blame for bringing into doubt the definition of 'is.'


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