Janesville54.1°

Up in the air, his suspicions are Kindled

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Rick Horowitz
January 15, 2010
— I’m in 9B. He’s in 4C, five rows ahead. He’s a congressman—an influential congressman, but aren’t they all?—heading back to the Nation’s Capital to do the people’s business.

I make the same instant calculation I always make in this kind of situation: “I know who’s in the headline if the plane goes down.” Not that I’m expecting the plane to go down. I’m just saying.


Anyway: In a few minutes, we’re airborne, and a little while later, they announce that it’s OK to use “approved electronic devices.” I’m traveling light on this trip—no iPod, no headphones—but what’s a flight to Washington without looking important? (Or at least busy.) So I pull out my laptop and try to catch up on some work. Up in 4C, meanwhile, the congressman is looking at his Kindle.


I say it’s a Kindle. I don’t really know if it’s a Kindle, or one of the lesser-known brands of electronic readers; from where I’m sitting, I can’t quite make out the label. But it’s an electronic reader, no question about it. And the congressman is reading. Electronically.


I find myself wondering if he’s just relaxing with a novel, or plowing through a major new book on American history. Or maybe it’s something work-related. Maybe he’s reading some exciting new plan to balance the budget, solve the health-care crisis, keep America safe from terrorists and lose those unsightly extra pounds—all without raising anyone’s taxes.


I’d like to see that plan myself. Read on, Congressman! Read on!


Anyway: The time goes by, and we’re getting closer to Washington, and at some point they announce that it’s time to turn off all those approved electronic devices.

“If it’s a watch,” the pilot says, “or a pacemaker, or an electric oxygen pump, fine. Otherwise, you have to turn it off.”


My laptop goes back into its case.


At some point, I happen to glance up ahead, toward 4C, and I notice that the congressman still has his Kindle on. No problem, I’m thinking—he’s just finishing the paragraph, or the page, and we’re still a good 20 minutes out of Washington.


But the minutes pass by—and so do the flight attendants, and nobody seems to be saying anything to the congressman about his Kindle. Electronic devices have to be off during takeoffs and landings so they don’t interfere with the plane’s navigation system; that’s what I’ve been told, anyhow. I’d hate to have our navigation system interfered with, even by an influential congressman.


You’d think the congressman wouldn’t want to have our navigation system interfered with either, not after all the years he’s spent building up seniority.


So now I’m trying to read between the lines: Is there a special exemption for Kindles? Is there a special exemption for congressmen? Do they get to play by different rules even when we all have a stake in a safe flight?


He has to turn it off eventually, I tell myself, but the plane gets closer and closer to our destination and he’s still reading. We’re in our final approach, and if there’s ever a good time to have a fully functional, not-interfered-with navigation system, it’s now, right? But he’s still reading.

And then we touch down, and only then—too late to do us a bit of good—does the congressman finally stow the thing. I’m annoyed. Definitely annoyed. Meanwhile, the pilot gives the rest of us—the ones who follow the rules, that is—permission to use our cell phones while we taxi to the gate, so I reach into my pocket for my BlackBerry…


…which is already on.


Which has apparently been on for the entire flight.


So who’s feeling guilty now?


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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