Commentary: The beauty of the airborne dead zone

The Charlotte ObserverApril 6, 2012 

Start some geezer talking about air travel and pretty soon they’re telling you that Back In The Day, flying on an airplane was like being borne around in a sedan chair by well-muscled Persian servants cooing at you to sample the finest food and drink.

That’s fine for people who enjoy that sort of thing, but I prefer the modern aeronautical experience.

You just can’t beat the thrill of waiting in a queue for 30 minutes when you’re cutting it close so that your ticket and ID can be eyeballed suspiciously, then get down to sock time while agents of the federal government irradiate your warm form while snuffling through your bags.

No opera can match the performance of TSA operatives, bellowing like mastodons across some ancient bog, reminding you that liquids must be in wee containers placed just so.

Once admitted to the fuselage, known nowadays as the baggage compartment, one can enjoy the thrill of the squish, both with carry-ons and personal seat space. It’s like revisiting the womb, only no room to kick.

Stowing electronic gear at takeoff and landing is part of the pageantry, unless you’re Alec Baldwin, who knows that by virtue of being an important actor, he is immune from anything that’s annoying to the rest of us.

Authorities are thinking now about changing all that. They’ve decided to determine whether electronic gadgets back in cattle class actually interfere with navigational and other sensitive gear. If not, the dead zone between runway and 10,000 feet might be declared obsolete.

Once passengers get the OK to activate their gizmos, your average jetliner turns into an electromagnetic porcupine. Laptops, CD players, tablets and phone apps power up in unison, spewing electrons to and fro. Some planes offer Wi-Fi at ransom prices, and there are takers. It’s like being in a winged Apple Store.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for modern communications. I absolutely understand the need to text urgently away during baptisms, funerals and while crossing a busy street against the light. There’s so much important information to be exchanged that if you don’t pay undivided attention you run the risk of not being up to the second on what’s really happening in life.

Still, a part of me would mourn the passing of the airborne dead zone, the last bastion of civility in air travel.

It was a sanctuary from the hoots and bleeps of things electronic, a quiet interlude spent peeking out the window to see the world unfold in measured splendor. It was a just-let-go opportunity to surrender and, like with the sedan-chair bearers of old, let someone else be in charge of movement for the moment. Just for that speck of time, it was nice to be disconnected.

But I suppose that’s silly. There’s probably an app for that, anyway.

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