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Alec BaldwinAir travel, as we all know, is stressful. Add alcohol, fear and a celebrity or two, and you’ve got the makings of an industry that churns out more dramatic stories than Jackie Collins.

You’ve likely heard about the latest flight-induced fracas: a tit for tat between Alec Baldwin and the recently-bankrupt American Airlines. On Tuesday, Baldwin, star of the NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” was booted off a plane for refusing to turn off his iPhone. The actor was caught up in a game of “Words with Friends,” which he continued to play as the plane sat at the gate, despite requests from cabin crew to turn off all electronic devices.

What Not to Do at the Airport

Yesterday, American Airlines posted a statement on its Facebook page in response to the hullabaloo. The airline elected not to mention Baldwin by name, lending its scold, er, statement a passive-aggressive tone: “The passenger ultimately stood up (with the seat belt light still on for departure) and took his phone into the plane’s lavatory. He slammed the lavatory door so hard, the cockpit crew heard it and became alarmed, even with the cockpit door closed and locked.” American goes on to accuse “the passenger” of verbally abusing the airline crew and using foul language.

Baldwin released a less ambiguous response, criticizing the airline in a letter on HuffPost Travel, “A Farewell to Common Sense, Style, and Service on American Airlines.” In the essay, which was published yesterday, the actor offers an apology to the other passengers who were on the flight, but derides the airline industry for sub-par service “that would make Howard Hughes red-faced.” Baldwin argues that the airline’s shortage of common sense and customer service was the catalyst to his aggression.

We agree with Baldwin on one point: anyone who’s paid $30 for the privilege of carting a carry-on bag knows there’s an unmistakable demand for common sense in the airline industry. But is the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety rule regarding electronic devices on planes the place to start? John Deiner tackled this issue on our blog earlier this year, writing about his own encounter with a Baldwin-esque passenger. Deiner became nervous when his airplane seatmate refused to turn off his cell phone before takeoff, and subsequently sought out the answer to that industry-old question: Is it really necessary for passengers to turn off our phones and computers during takeoff and landing? Well, according to the FAA, yes. Writes Deiner:

“So what sort of danger were we in? Very little, most likely. I checked the Web site of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which prohibits the use of cell phones on flights. In 2007, the agency considered lifting the ban, but didn’t. Here’s why: ‘The FCC determined that the technical information provided by interested parties in response to the proposal was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground. … In addition to the FCC’s rules, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits in-flight use of wireless devices because of potential interference to the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems.'”

There’s a slight chance that cell phone waves could cause complications with plane functionality. But just how slight is slight? Deiner cites a Discover Channel “MythBuster” episode that put the odds of such a happening at one in a million. Let’s be honest: If there was a bona fide probability that cell phone waves could take down a plane, we wouldn’t be permitted to bring them onboard in the first place. Or, at least, we’d have to dismantle our devices and carry them through security in clear, quart-size zip-top bags.

When our common sense tells us that a game of “Words with Friends” won’t harm a thing, but the cabin crew is instructing us to power down, should we listen — or keep placing tiles onto our virtual game boards? Your answer ultimately depends on whether you’ve joined Team Baldwin or Team AA in this latest industry feud. Tell us where you stand in the comments.

— written by Caroline Costello

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4 Responses to “Alec Baldwin, American Airlines Sound Off: Now It’s Your Turn”

  1. soliteyah says:

    I think Baldwin is just another spoiled celebrity who doesn’t think the same rules apply to him as apply to the rest of us. His tantrum is embarrassing for a person of his age.

  2. ACruiseGuy says:

    Hey, don’t be pickin’ on my Alex! Hmmm, I play WWF all the time, wonder if we’ve ever played together!


  3. TravelBird says:

    Come on people, it’s a plane – do you really want to risk it?

    Whether the rules are to prevent electrical interference with the plane’s controls or to prevent terrorist attacks – is a double word score worth the risk? Take a book (paper version), read the newspaper, maybe even
    go totally old school and talk to the person sat next to you.

  4. Daisyloo says:

    Rules are rules, and it doesn’t matter if you are a celebrity or Joe average. The rules are made to keep us all safe. I wouldn’t want to be on that one in a million flight where a cellphone interferes with the navigation. Can you imagine the public outcry if something tragic happened and it got out that the airline hadn’t made people turn off their phones? Mr. Baldwin should apologize to the airline for the grief he caused their employees who were following the rules.

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