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Devices enliven aviation

SOMEWHERE OVER KANSAS -- The fact that Alec Baldwin is not on this flight already means less drama.

In fact, we were still at the gate when the captain made reference to the "30 Rock" star and his recent brush with a flight crew. As the pilot advised us of preparations to close the door so we could begin our flight to California, he asked the passengers to turn off their electronic devices so we wouldn't have an "Alec Baldwin situation."

That humorous reference will probably not last more than another week, so I figure the captain has to use the material while it's fresh. It did get a chuckle from a number of the passengers.

Baldwin got in trouble early last week when he did not comply with instructions to turn off his phone, on which he was playing "Words With Friends," a popular Scrabble-like game. As someone who occasionally takes three to four days to complete a turn, I really cannot see his hurry, but if he likes the game that much, who am I to argue? He will possibly get an endorsement deal out of the hubbub, so maybe he really is an evil genius.

Of course, with the advent of in-flight Wi-fi, he might have only had to wait 10-15 minutes to make his move. When planes get above 10,000 feet, passengers are allowed to turn most devices back on.

So far, the airlines have resisted the temptation to ask the FAA for relaxation of rules against making in-flight cell phone calls. Say what you will about flying these days, but a plane is the one place you don't have to deal with people having loud conversations on a phone. With all the other stresses, such as cramped quarters, little or no food, and questionable arrival times, spending five hours next to someone on the phone conducting business, or worse, having an argument, is still not an issue at 36,000 feet.

Those activities can take place over the Internet without disturbing other passengers.

Even without Wi-fi on this plane, I can take advantage of free DirecTV and find out about the Cardinals losing Albert Pujols to the Angels while actually flying over St. Louis -- like I did a half an hour ago. This is much different from the choice of one movie or 10 stereo channels I remember when going to Germany in the 1970s -- and a sign of being able to remain plugged in and get things done in a calmer atmosphere. I might even be able to get a little sleep now, so I'm refreshed by the time I arrive at my destination -- on time it would appear.

That's a lot more than I can say for the passengers on Alec Baldwin's flight. Although they might have a more exciting story to tell.

• Charles Pannunzio is assistant managing editor of the Northern Virginia Daily.

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