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back to article FCC urges rethink of aircraft personal-electronics blackout

The head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has written to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asking for a rethink of the current ban on using electronic items in flight. Currently all electronic devices have to be switched off on US aircraft operating below 10,000 feet, and can only used in flight-safe mode ( …

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Anonymous Coward

Tablets of death

If there was truly any sort of problem it would be hugely obvious by now when you consider that many if not all passengers simply mute their phones and don't put them in flight mode at all. They also don't disable wifi or other wireless features.

It makes sense for the flight crew to tell passengers to put items away for take off and landing as people need to be paying attention in the event that there is a problem but that has nothing to do with electronic noise issues.

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Re: Tablets of death

I expect a lot of them don't even know how to turn on flight mode (or even that they have one).

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Headmaster

Re: " that has nothing to do with electronic noise issues."

As far as the motivations of the FAA are concerned you are in all likelihood right. However, I am obliged to (partially) take issue with another point in the article inasmuch than I do not see that the issue of possible interference from electronic devices can be regarded as solely the result of poor shielding on those pieces of kit. If the onboard control systems are so poorly shielded that there is in reality a quantifiable risk that I could bring down a Boeing 747 with my Desire Z then I have to say that the manufacturers of the aircraft concerned and their electronics suppliers also have a responsibility. Indeed if it that shielding is of such mediocre quality that we are potentially at risk I think we should be very worried already - let alone when the guy in the seat next to us is permitted to talk (very loudly and annoyingly) to his office/wife/misstress on his latest shiny.

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Meh

It's the only

Time I can get a bit of peace, imagine letting all the Chavs who fly have unfettered access to everything from music players and phones etc etc. In the free for all that follows numerous scenes of air rage will be played out.

'Look your Honour, he kept playing the same song, after the 70th time asked politely if he would turn the volume down, he did after all have a portable 150W music player, then he was on the phone 50 times shouting in it 'Guess where I am go on GUESS!'

'So you opened the door and threw him out?'

'Yes your honour...'

'A mercy killing, you aremfreemto go, case dismissed!'

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Linux

Re: " that has nothing to do with electronic noise issues."

Like I say, this has nothing to do with aircraft safety. It has everything to do with making sure that nothing goes unsurveiled. These planes take off, land and fly thru all kinds of electronic clutter as is. Nearby TV transmitters, Ham operators, radio stations, cell towers, etc. all near airports. At 30k feet, they're what, 6 miles from the sources of these transmissions? IF this stuff was a hazard, surely we would have had at least one incident by now, yet there are none... Petraeus goes off the reservation, Bingo! the FBI exposes his affair. Allen's emails as well. Apparently the new Gestapo in DC had been sitting on these for a while and waited until after the election to use them ala Nixon enemies List style to rid themselves of opposition. It is the Chicago way, Obama twice had court records unsealed to derail opponents in his early days in Chicago when running for the US Senate. Divorce details magically show up to sink a candidate in one case.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Tablets of death

"I expect a lot of them don't even know how to turn on flight mode (or even that they have one)."

It doesn't matter how idiot proof you make a device or how fisher price you make the OS, iPad owners still need help to break the rules.

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One small problem...

When you have portable FM radios (that work from 88-108 MHz), their local oscillator (if using high size injection at 10.7 MHz) can be in the nav aid band (108 MHz to 118 MHz). This is the most likely problem that crops up. You really don't want the VOR receiver in the airplane pointing back to the passenger compartment. True it is unlikely, but you never know.

This is why they have pacemaker warnings in front of microwave ovens.

It goes back to the fact that some manufacturers are lazy. They don't put adequate shielding in their devices and as such they are subject to interference. There are exceptions, but still there are lazy manufacturers. Unfortunately the users of the offending equipment are want to blame the generator of the (very slight) interfering signal so they "ban them all".

As for cell phones, there is another problem. If you are up in the air, you may light up a bunch more cell towers than you would if you were on the ground. Each tower that has to ignore you means that they can't use that frequency. That in turn lowers the capacity of the cell phone network for others using it. Not a good thing!

So as they say "Its complicated!" (*SIGH*)

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Re: One small problem...

... can be in the nav aid band (108 MHz to 118 MHz)

Are they actually using that band, or is it just available as a point of argument when they need it? Yes, I agree that things are complicated, but I have a feeling that there are some complications which are, in fact, non-technical.

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Re: One small problem...

'Are they actually using that band'

Yes, yes they are, including ILS systems in the lower portion which could be interesting if the needle starts pointing behind you on finals...

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FAIL

security has become political

Much like the Homeland Security department itself it has become a lot more about politics than security. Most people ride the short bus when it comes to understanding risk and risk mitigation.

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Happy

Re: security has become political

No it hasn't. There is no room for any risk. The only way to mitigate risk is to legislate and intimidate.

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Go

Status > Landing

I can see why updating your Facebook status or getting a txt message would be more important than a pilot reading instruments or being able to communicate. Airline pilots these days are so last decade, what with wanting to approach runways knowing how high up they are or how fast they're going. Can't they just look out the window like everyone else? Is this really a good reason for stopping me from tweeting a photo of my airline napkin and peanuts or watching the latest version of gangnam style on youtube?

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Facepalm

Re: Status > Landing

Are you suggesting that all a terrorist has to do is twat a few tweets in order to disable all of the onboard navigation equipment when the plane comes to land?

I'm pretty sure the risks you allude to are very close to 100% over-stated.

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Re: Status > Landing

Ok.. this is how it works. All electronic equipment emits radio waves when powered on. How strong the inteference and how vulnerable a display device or a communication device is varies. Will you cell/mobe/whatever intefer with an airplane's instruments? Probably not. Could it? Yes. Will it make the plane crash? No. Will it be fucking annoying that your readings jump around a bit every now and then.. yes. Should pilots have to put up with this while they are trying to land a long tube of metal, filled with fuel on a thin strip of tarmack? No.

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WTF?

Re: Status > Landing

Please post one reference of any common consumer electronic device made in the last decade that has been shown to interfere with any device on the plane used by the crew.

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Re: Status > Landing

You had better tell that to the pilots, many of whom use their own phone and GPS to navigate. They also use PCs and tablets in the cockpit for work (and NEVER for personal use, of course).

All electronic devices have to pass FCC (or European) electronic emissions standards before they are sold. There is the million to one chance that your phone (and only your phone) is somehow defective, and another million to one chance that it would fail in a way that would actually interfere with anything. Also another million to one that the avionics equipment, which has been tested for radiated susceptibility from other devices, is somehow defective in that specific airplane.

Also, don't forget the 12 cell phone towers aimed right at the tarmac, with transmitters hundreds of times more powerful than your puny cell phone; and the airport's Wi-Fi which can often be detected at the gate.

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Mushroom

Re: Status > Landing

The biggest offender seem to be cheap talking toys. I have yet to find a GSM phone that can't make an ADF point a different direction at the same time as it is causing noise in the headphones. I know if I'm on a plane doing a IFR approach close to the minimums, I would prefer if anything that can be turned off is off.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Status > Landing

I have to admit to leaving my mobile phone on while flying over Shawbury at 2500ft in cloud with a base of 300ft transiting towards the Wrekin water dripping on my head from a leak in the canopy of a PA28 and having a little flag appear telling me that the VOR was u/s and at the same time my Garmin GPS lost its signal and wouldn't reboot for 15 minutes. As I called Shawbury to let them know I had some minor problems and needed them to keep me on my course so I go back to VFR flight my phone rang, and rang, and rang...

My headset buzzed and popped for ages until my wife left her message and it was a significant distraction that maybe someone with less hours may have proved fatal. It wasn't the phone that might have caused the crash, it was a build up of a number of problems one of which was the distraction of the phone that I didn't need at the time.

Needless to say I have written 'phone off' in all seven of the aircraft type checklists I fly.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Status > Landing

Those stupid Furby toys are specifically banned from use at any stage of flight by many operators because they spew out an incredible amount of RF that can and does produce noise on the aircraft's VHF COM (voice) radios.

I've experienced this first hand when I used to do charter work in Piper Chieftains.

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Re: Status > Landing

@asdf - There are anecdotal stories that speak of pilots hearing the tell-tale mobile phone interference in their headsets.

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Re: Status > Landing

To be fair, there is a significant difference in shielding between the instruments of a little Piper Cherokee and a Boeing 747. I could easily see interference between your VHF and mobile - the two devices were probably a foot or two apart. I suspect if the phone was in the tail though, you'd have had much less of an issue.

Easy enough for all small operators to request the turning off of electronic devices on the grounds of potential interference - the plane is small enough that they can smack an offender around the back of the head if necessary.

A large aircraft on the other hand has an increasingly isolated passenger cabin, for security and noise as much as RF.

Instruments in the cockpit area should be pretty much completely unaffected at all times.

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Jos
Meh

I think the biggest objection was (I could be wrong) that you don't want all those phones switching between cell towers at the rate a plane is flying, multiplied be the number of phones and passengers cruising through the airspace. You can imagine the number and what it does to base stations and networks.

Hey, when I was doing ppl we'd used to call home to say we were just about to go overhead. The only annoying thing you would get is the same you get on your home/car stereo with the weee-blip-blip-wonk-wak-wak sound over your headset. Then again... 300 pax might make it a tat more annoying.

Easiest way to kill that is to put micro cells in aircraft though. Same as they do when you stay in a hotel on a floor above 30m or so. Don't even have to switch it through to a network just so to keep the phones not broadcasting all the time. Or do and charge a gazillion dollars in roaming for the self important pricks that want to call home in the middle of a 16 hour flight.

Laptops and all that stuff don't do anything, but maybe it's a bit more important to pay attention to safety and not having to fold up/pack your "electronic device" when going for a "water landing", while you are below 10.000ft. Just saying

Cheers all. Enjoy the weekend. I'll raise another beer for the Reg

Jos

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Pint

More beer? Good work!

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The anecdote I have is of a 747 that was gently rocking from side to side in the cruise (on autopilot of course).

There was a guy in the first row of first class playing a CD player. They got him to turn it off - no rocking - on - rocking.

I'm sure that a lot of electronics are no problem but I don't think that anyone can guarantee that ALL electronics are no problem. Maybe the flight attendants can have a list of approved equipment and go through the cabin checking what devices people want to use and letting them know ot it's OK or not.

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HELLO? HELLO? YES, I'M ON THE PLANE!

The main reason I can think of to continue the ban is to retain some kind of peace and quiet on the plane. Screaming babies are bad enough, but the last think I want to endure on a 10+ hour intercontinental flight is drunks yelling into their cell phones. "HEY BRO, GUESS WHERE I AM!"

If I wanted to endure that sort of behavior, I'd go to the movies more often.

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Childcatcher

Re: HELLO? HELLO? YES, I'M ON THE PLANE!

It is funny how irritating screaming/crying babies can be on an aeroplane unless the critter in question is your progeny.

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Re: HELLO? HELLO? YES, I'M ON THE PLANE!

I'd love to see a cell phone that works when out of range of land based cell towers.

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Devil

Re: HELLO? HELLO? YES, I'M ON THE PLANE!

With regard to screaming babies: mine is of course the world's most delightful, funny, charming, peaceful (etc.) grandchild while yours is nothing less than a fiend from the nethermost pits of hell.

And it's just the same with a mobile phone: yours is inane irritating and above all boring chatter, while my conversation is a matter of life and death.

Surely this is obvious?

More seriously, it strikes me that these days random EMC interference is unlikely to be an issue. Things that deliberately or incidentally emit radiation, though, are likely to be at best a concern until proved innocent: radio transmitters such as phones, wireless networks, and two-way radios, and the IF output from radio receivers.

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Go

Re: HELLO? HELLO? YES, I'M ON THE PLANE!

> I'd love to see a cell phone that works when out of range of land based cell towers.

When logged into a plane-based cell transmitter, with satellite uplink.

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Thumb Down

"They empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family..."

...and they also empower people to irritate the living shit out of their fellow passengers

"Signs of sanity return", huh? Yeah, we'll see how long the sanity lasts when airliner cabins are full of the sounds of people playing games on their slabs and talking on their phones.

Report of first "air rage" incident involving somebody punching a cellphone jabberer in the teeth in 5... 4... 3... 2... 1...

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Facepalm

Re: "They empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family..."

So the human race has produced people who can't be separated from their so-called friends on Twitface and family for, oh I dunno, a couple of hours?

And what's so wrong with in-flight 'entertainment' anyway? Not enough 'info'?

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Anonymous Coward

Diabetes

I'm somewhat afraid to fly, particularly for long flights, because of the number of times I've been asked to "turn off" my insulin pump. I've also of course been asked to turn off my continuous glucose monitor -- which is admittedly a radio device, but with a range of about a foot - even though the *receiver* that they can see is the part that turns off. The transmitter is attached to my stomach and has no "off" capability.

The first few times I'd argue, invoking phrases like "American Diabetes Association", and - an american favorite - "lawsuit", but lately I just say OK, make the backlight turn off, and pocket it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Diabetes

"I'm somewhat afraid to fly, particularly for long flights, because of the number of times I've been asked to "turn off" my insulin pump"

What Airlines ordered you to disconnect your insulin pump? What effects if any, are there from the changes in air pressure?

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WTF?

Re: Diabetes

Turn off your insulin pump? That's trolling far under the bridge.

There is no airline (in the U.S.or E.U. anyway) that would ever ask you to deactivate a medical device. Post some flight details and the Internet Rage Machine will prevent this from happening again. Otherwise stop just stirring up shite.

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Missing the point

Just because tests have yet to prove that consumer electronics doesn't interfere with airplane systems is actually rather irrelevant. The regulations state you have to prove it DOESN'T interfere, which is a different kettle of fish and why it has never been done. Aircraft electrical equipment is revised infrequently and tested thoroughly. The same cannot be said of consumer electronics who are likely to include a different chip or a later revision of a chip at the drop of a hat, with no external indication of the change.

And its not just systems on the plane you are on that could be affected. Potentially a badly designed/malfunctioning device on a plane in front of yours could interfere with the ILS (Instrument Landing System) signals or other navigation aids and then you're really in trouble. I strongly suspect that is why the plane has to leave the active runway before American Airlines goes on the PA to let people turn on their fondlephones.

Personally I would like to see the ban lifted, however I retain the right to change my mind if cheap crap designed without proper RF shielding is proven to be an issue.

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Re: Missing the point

The point is that as soon as the airline fits WifI that they charge $15 for, or a pico-cell so they can add $5/min call charges - then suddenly all your gear is OK.

Now unless they also broke into my house, took my phone/tablet/laptop, tested them and replaced them without me knowing - we are in exactly the same risk situation we were before.

It's just that now they have a $$$$ reason for allowing them, while in the days of sky-phone and charge-for headsets they had a $$$ reason for banning them.

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Stop

Everything?

So what about my computerized hearing aids?

Governments shouldn't make laws that breed contempt. It only makes it easier to ignore the laws that really MEAN something. If an airplane is made electrically-invulnerable enough to live through a lightning strike, I doubt my MP3 player is going to cause problems. Devices with transmitters or speakers, now that is a different matter. With speakers, most of the other passengers will help enforce the rule!

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Coat

I don't think the FAA

really gives two tosses about how many cell towers are lit up if you are using a cell phone on a plane, cell carriers maybe but the FAA do not concern themselves with the trivialities of telecoms companies!

<------ the one with the mercury thermometer in the pocket

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Re: I don't think the FAA

The FCC do. The ban was written up after tests showed AMPS systems could be blotted out on one channel for several hundred mles in every direction from a 3W bag phone at 30,000feet - and the ban was only on phones above 5000 feet, specifically so they could continue to be used on GA craft and Helicopters (The "blot" range at 5,000 feet is only about 10 miles and this was felt to be a reasonable compromise.

AMPS is (almost) ancient history. GSM/CDMA and all their TDMA brethren have built in defenses against flying phones.

FAA bans on electronics switched on during critical flight phases date back to the 1960s, when people did do such thing as try to listen to FM radios while in the air or using radio-controlled toys in the aisles on transatlantic flights (in at least some cases, high power CB transmitters were keyed on). Modern electronics is a lot better at coping with (and generating) interference than old kit, but anything which splatters over aircraft navigation bands was and is a problem. ILO interference was regarded as a factor in at least one fatal crash.

Yes, passenger-carried equipment has been fingered as the cause of problems on multiple occasions - usually the evidence is "Pilots asked the passenger to switch off the device and interference went away", but sometimes crosschecked with "Pilots asked the passenger to switch the device back on and the interference returned"

At the end of the day though, the rule is "What the pilot says, goes" - and pilots tend to err on the side of caution when they have a couple of hundred people behind them on the bus. Their concerns are as much about disorder as interference. I've heard warnings on several airlines that electronic devices must not be used in ways which annoy other passengers - and seen cabin staff enforce those rules.

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Anonymous Coward

I agree on the "re-think"

ALL and I do mean ALL electronic devices should be banned when the plane is in operation other than parked at the gate. Not only is there a risk of electronic interference there is a very hugh annoyance factor by inconsiderate fellow flyers yapping on their cellphone or blasting their music. Anyone who really needs to use an electronic device while flying should ride in the cargo hold.

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Re: I agree on the "re-think"

So what if you're just playing Angry Birds over headphones? No one hears you, and it can run in Airplane Mode, meaning no transmissions? And before you say, "the bright screen," why doesn't this happen with booklights?

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Re: I agree on the "re-think"

Just upvoted you on that. I'd even go so far as to say that mobile phones and Crackberries should be shut off while on the plane, period.

A few years or so ago, when arriving home in DC from a trip to Montreal, the plane had barely touched down and started taxiing to the arrival gate when some woman a few rows in front of me whips out her mobile, calls a relative in the city, and starts engaging in a heated argument about some private family issue loudly enough to be heard by every passenger within eight or ten rows of her seat.

This, of course, is on top of having to endure the en masse whipping out of mobiles as soon as the plane is down and taxiing to the jetway. My wife and I fly at least twice a year to and from Mexico from DC via DFW, and it never fails -- wheels down, plane starts taxiing to arrival gate, and immediately nearly everybody who has a mobile on them has whipped them out and started calling somebody. Christ, is it going to kill them to wait five minutes until they're off the plane to dial up someone and announce HEY! I'M IN DALLAS/PUERTO VALLARTA/DC, DUDE!"

(Full disclosure: sometimes, while on the plane, I like to watch movies on my laptop with headphones, after shutting off FireWire and Bluetooth.)

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Re: I agree on the "re-think"

I do kind of agree with you, but when you're parked at the gate you aren't even allowed to get up and pee, even if you are parked/taxing for an hour or more.

Flying in the sky 30k feet up? Feel free to move about the plane and pee or root through your bags. Stuck on the ground remain in your seat and piss your pants but you can play angry birds if you want.

Airlines are a weird thing and almost nothing about them makes good sense.

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Re: I agree on the "re-think"

Prior to takeoff, they want you in the seats so they can check for missing passengers (especially passengers who presented their boarding passes but are not on board--they're either lost or a safety risk, either way you have to check up). Upon landing, there's a pecking order to disembarking and they're trying to enforce it.

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Re: I agree on the "re-think"

In the US you are generally allowed to use cell phones wile taxing - in the UK you can't use them until you are inside the terminal - because other aircraft may be being refuelled.

This is because US aircraft run on Jet-A (kerosene) which - if you have ever owned an AGA - you will know can only be ignited with a small nuclear device. British aircraft apparently run on a mixture of shaken Nitroglycerin and lithium tri-iodide.

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Never understood how I'm meant to switch my digital watch off.

I've never seen one with an off switch, but they've definately got electronics in them.

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What about my TI eZ430-Chronos?

It's a programmable watch with a low-power radio transceiver.

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Happy

well what a bunch

of intolerant buggers you are! :)

in August on a train after my summer hols to London

a woman opposite was very rude to me - all I was doing was LISTENING on an ear piece to call, miserable bitch!

so I moved when another table came free at next station

then she got a lady + 4 young kids (not all her own) sat next to / opposite her, all very excited, one with headphones singing loudly, brother complaining also loudly + other excited :)

bloke (= complete wanker) opposite her calling all his mates to tell them he had Olympic tickets, then arrange his Saturday golf game

what did I do wrong? will guess that I missed the opportunity to

1) tell the sour faced bitch to get her sorry fat arse to the "quiet coach"

2) tell the sour faced bitch that I was doing a deal to keep 250 people in work for the next 5 years (she was SO damned busy that she was reading chick mag - so probably one of very many parasitic civil servants without a REAL job)

3) wish her a nice day as we left and say "careful what you wish for bitch in future"

</rant>

Mav

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Bugger in the air...

...when are they going to do something about those jobsworth little Hitler security cretins who think they can give you a hard time during the hours it takes you to pass through immigration and pick up your bags once you're back on the ground? What possible danger is there in an immigration queue or baggage hall?! "No phone calls! No text messages! Who do you think you are, you can't use the internet HERE?! One more email and I'll have you arrested!" Errr yes, you and what army, and on what charge my dear?

Last time I checked you needed some pretty serious grounds for holding someone incommunicado, and there's no signing warning you lose your first amendment rights when you get off a bloody plane!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bugger in the air...

They'll just make something up and pack you into a locked room. I guess that you didn't hear that Massa Obama was able to get the "detention without charges" clause in the NDAA reactivated. The US government voted itself the ability to detain US citizens on US soil without charges as part of an "anti-terrorist" bill. Never mind that it's unconstitutional, you probably don't have the money to hire a good enough lawyer to take the complaint to the Supreme Court. Even if you do, it's easier to just wait a few more minutes to update your Facebook page along with all of the other 16 year old girls.

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