I'm no engineer, but I know this: If personal electronics could bring down a plane, Al Qaeda would just assign a group of followers to send simultaneous text messages from the next flight out of Jerusalem. Update: Or... don't. Just don't. Giz Au Editor's Note: I rather strongly disagree. A lot.
It's bullshit, and it's inconvenient. Your smooth jazz helps you relax during scary landings; Dora on your iPad keeps that screaming bundle of joy quiet while the rest of us are trying to fall asleep for the flight; your books are on Kindle; you're in Business Class because you have to work. And who, these days, can work without turning on a computer? Especially when it comes to commuter flights, the aggregate 40-ish minutes of electronic moratoria make a huge contribution to the general unpleasantness of modern air travel. And for what?
I don't know what particular bug is up the airlines' arses about electronics — maybe it's a control thing, maybe it's some kind of school uniform-esque attempt to keep people from feeling left out of the technological revolution — but screw it. Planes have actually been protected against electronic interference since the 1960s. And I've been skirting the no-tech rule my entire god-cursed, Elite-Diamond-Medallion-1K-Admiral's-Club life without so much as a hiccup. Here's how I get away with it.
Step 1: Get a Window Seat
I know, I know: You have a thimble-sized bladder and need to tinkle often. Being hemmed in by strangers makes you feel claustrophobic. The window is cold. The window is loud. Get over it. If you want to play this game, you have to get out of the bleachers and take your spot on the field.
Sitting by the window makes one entire side of your body invisible, allowing you to route cords and stash gear — in a hurry if need be. And if you cross your outside leg so your knee points at your neighbour, you've got a nearly unseeable cove in which to operate your machinery. (Quiet you, filthy-minded one.) Playing a game with Alec Baldwin? The Crotch Cove can help. Skipping one of those insufferable power ballads an ostensibly hip-hop album? Do it in the Crotch Cove. To outside observers, it will look like you are sitting docile, hands folded neatly in your lap. Or like you're playing with your junk. Either way, they will move along. I promise you.
Step 2: Wear a Hoodie
It's often chilly on aeroplanes — might have something to do with the air temperature being around -50C at 35,000 feet. That's just one of many good reasons to wear a hoodie when you travel. Cosiness in one of the most unpleasant environments in this cruel mechanised world. But the best reason to travel con hoodie is that this particular garment is the world's best in-flight gadget-concealment device.
Here's the scam: put your iPod in your pocket, run the cord up your chest and put on your headphones — earbuds are better than cans because they're small and easy to cover up. Then put your hoodie on over the whole getup, tucking excess cable into your pocket. The cord is concealed, the earbuds are obscured. Right before you take your seat, extract your music player and a few inches of cord from your pocket, and let it dangle in the Crotch Cove so you can control your tunes. I like to tuck the cord into the folds of my jeans. I am paranoid — but then, I have never gotten caught.
Step 3: Misdirection
I hate to quote Swordfish, but credit where credit is due. I saw this film on a flight (natch), and came up with what I think is my best tactic for staying under the flight attendant's radar: "What the eyes see... the mind believes. Misdirection."
If you were cruising a cabin for people listening to music, and saw a passenger with a pair of headphones folded neatly on his lap — unplugged cord in full view — you would naturally assume he wasn't wearing his headphones, right? You would. And you'd be wrong. Because that guy is me, and I travel with two pairs of headphones: a set of cans carried mostly as a ruse (though it is nice to give the ear canal a break and switch up 'phones on long flights), and a couple of earbuds whispering sweet nothings into my ears under my hoodie during takeoff. This works. Every. Single. Time. Especially if you are pretending to be asleep — an illusion the hoodie can also help reinforce. Just make sure to keep your buckled seatbelt in full view; all of your illusions will be strengthened if the sky narcs think you're a model citizen.
And the sleight-of-gear doesn't stop at audio. You know that old comic-book-inside-of-a-textbook trick you used in high school? Works equally well with a SkyMall and a Kindle (iPads are touch-and-go because they're a bit bulky). Again, it's time to make use of the Crotch cove: Just angle your body about 10 degrees to the outside, (being careful not to intrude on your neighbour's space) raise your leg a scosh, snug the spine of magazine in the crook of your knee so it's visible, and cram your reader of choice into the glossy's seam. This sounds elaborate and uncomfortable, but it's only for a few minutes. Remember, what the eyes see, the mind believes.
The flight attendant has 150 other idiots to worry about — many of whom will be brazenly flaunting the laws so explicitly broadcast over the PA ten-hundred times. Some guy reading a SkyMall is not going to raise more of a red flag than the drunk guy "finishing a call" from his reclined seat.
Step 4: Props
Nothing beats a good book, right? Well, for this particular instance let me offer a grammatical clarification: nothing beats The Good Book. Remember those folded-up headphones? If they're sitting on top of a Bible on your lap, nobody is going to give you any shit at all. And in fact, if you have one of the smaller readers like a Kindle Touch or Nook Simple Touch, you can even improve on the magazine trick.
And though the iPad is a little too substantial for SkyMall subterfuge, you can always dress it in a disguise. Dodocases used to work, but I've seen a number of people get busted with them lately. I carry a spiral notebook case I learned how to make on Instructables. And keep a pencil in my hand so it looks like I'm drawing. If you're not so crafty, you can pick up any number of book-lookin' iPad cases on Etsy. Just be wary of the ones that look like some shit you picked up off Allan Quartermain's bookshelf. Nobody carries a leather-bound copy of Just So Stories on a business trip, and nobody knows that better than a flight attendant.
There's So Much More...
These four tips should get you started, but they're by no means the extent of my tricks — it's just the easy stuff. Hey, I'm not gonna give it all away and blow up in my own spot. I've got 450 days a year of travel ahead of me, and I need my techniques. But maybe you've got some skills that could help little old me? Hook me up in the comments!
I am on the road more than a jam band; I have more miles than the Interstate Highway System, and I've racked up more medallions than a war hero. I am Frequent Flyer X, and I'm sharing my hard-earned knowledge with you. So buy me a drink the next time you spot me in the Lounge — if you can figure out who I am.