Abhi 2.0 on Technology

Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan’s Tech Archive: Columns, reports and video

Flight Mode!

with 2 comments

First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)
Column in HT Cafe

Column in HT Cafe

So there I was, sitting in a Jet Airways flight frantically scrolling the “Pearl” trackball on a Blackberry Curve, engaged in a fearsome battle between paddle and bricks, when the air hostess tapped my shoulder. “I’m sorry Sir, you have to switch that off”, she says politely. “It’s in flight mode”, I tell her, hoping that I haven’t let the ball fall while looking up. “There’s no such thing as flight mode, Sir”, she tells me knowingly. Politeness can be annoying when combined with ignorance. “But if you’re letting people use laptops, how is this any different? It’s just a small computer”. I’m not giving up easily but she doesn’t seem flustered. “No sir, the ‘waves’ cause the screens in the cockpit to flicker”. Now she’s just making stuff up. When I question her as to what waves exactly, since all the radios (GSM, GPRS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) on my phone are off, she pulls out her trump card. “I’m sorry sir, DGCA notification 133, prohibits use of phones, sir”. I give up and put my phone away. It could still have its radios on in my pocket and there’s no way she would know. Just to test the idiocy of the rule, I keep my data card in my laptop switched on throughout my next flight. This makes the laptop work exactly like a phone but no one asks me to turn it off. I’m quite certain that I’m not endangering my co-passengers or the aircraft equipment, because I’ve cross checked with at least three people before boarding this flight. A telecom company CTO, a pilot and a professor of electrical engineering all tell me it’s a big bogey with no scientific basis. The rule itself is archaic and my experience clearly proves that it has no way of being effectively implemented even if it were true.


The new on-board DTH (or actually shouldn’t it be called DTS ie. Direct-To-Seat?) on Kingfisher Airlines is awesome. Watching live television in the air is quite a kick and even makes long flights bearable. The LCD screens have a very good viewing angle and in fact I was easily able to see the screens of passengers sitting on either side in addition to my own. The brightness and contrast control buttons don’t work and not all channels have equally good reception. There was no disturbance at all on my flight though colleagues tell me that it doesn’t work perfectly in bad weather and they’ve had blackouts on certain flights. Scrolling tickers on news channels are a bit blurred but imminently readable and the pixelation is visible only when you stare hard at something static like a channel logo. The headphones that come in the little kit are supposed to clip onto your ears and start biting the earlobes after about an hour. Some of the frequent flyers around me seemed to be aware of this and were using their own headsets. Overall, the experience gets two thumbs up and is definitely a differentiator. The only annoying part of the experience is when the captain interrupts the TV audio feed to make an important announcement: “Ladies and Gentleman … introducing live TV on Kingfisher …”. Considering every single person on the flight is already tuned into some channel or the other, the timing is awful. Suddenly, a bunch of people burst out laughing. I peer through the seats in front of me, expecting to see them all watching The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. Nope, that’s Yana Gupta giving flight instructions in Hindi. I agree – that’s pretty hilarious!


Written by Abhi 2.0

August 27, 2007 at 1:44 am

2 Responses

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  1. I would like to give you my take on the first part of your article “In Flight Mode”.

    As a telecom Engineer, I too was curious about the restriction on the use of mobiles during a Flight. I recently recieved an article on the plans to allow the use of mobiles in flight by the FCC. Some burrowing around on the background of this move gave me some funny answers.

    * Flight control systems which must operate in all sorts of situations are normally shielded from all Electro-Magnetic radiation interference not pertaining to them. Including cell phones. The exception being when the use of any sort of radios on the actual flight deck – where the general rule is, better safe than sorry.
    * The Paradox on the restriction of the use of cell-phones on flights is that in the US, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is the agency that has banned cell-phones on flight, not the Federal Aviation Authority.
    o When we use a cellphone while moving, for example, while driving or on a train, the MSC (The main computer that controls the cellular phone network) is hard at work trying to see where (which next cell) it should transfer the channel you’re using so as to make sure your call doesn’t get dropped.
    o When you’re on a plane, you are:
    + located very high in the sky which will put you “within range” of hundreds of cells & the MSC would go crazy trying to figure out which one you belong to.
    + moving very fast, which will again drive the MSC crazy trying to switch you from one cell to another.
    o Either way, the network will probably throw up it’s hands & this will deprive a lot of nice folks who are using their phones on the ground, for no fault of theirs.
    * In any case, after a few attempts at trying to communicate with the networks, our phones themselves would give up! (As probably happened aboard the fourth flight on 9/11 – only 2 calls came from cell phones at low altitude and speed. Above that the calls probably didn’t make it through.)
    * The FCC probably thought in the interest of the larger majority – which would imply that there is sort of a scientific basis to the whole matter.

    So, in sum, there’s probably no harm in using phones on flights, but in the interests of the larger public, I think I will switch off, or use Flight mode on my cellphone during a flight.

    Incidentally, I am surprised to hear that a Jet Airways Flight Attendant didn’t know about Flight Mode. I think this is certainly something that Mr.Goyal shoud hear about…

    With my thanks for letting us have a great column.

    George Kuriakose

    October 31, 2008 at 3:28 pm

  2. Interesting article

    Pramod Krishna

    October 31, 2008 at 3:36 pm

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