When news broke that a flight crew called the cops on Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington over her refusal to turn off her BlackBerry while in flight, the story included a buried reference to the fellow passenger who was angry enough to confront her about it. Now, that passenger is speaking up and explaining why he was so upset: he was afraid for his safety.
The story began last weekend when, aboard a United Airlines flight from Washington, D.C. to New York, a passenger became upset after he noticed someone a few rows away using her cell phone after the plane was instructed to turn them off. But the woman, later identified as Huffington, wasn't just sending a few text messages. According to reports, she was talking on her phone even after the plane took off.
"She wouldn't turn off her BlackBerry, even when we pushed back from the gate," one passenger told the website Valleywag.
"We took off, and it became apparent that the phone was still on, which very much upset her neighbor."
That neighbor was identified as 53-year-old Ellis Belodoff, a small business owner from Long Island, New York. Since the weekend, Beledoff hasn't spoken to any news outlet. Wednesday that changed. And according to him, he was angry about the callous manner in which Huffington was risking the plane's safety.
"She was putting the use of her BlackBerry ahead of the safety of the entire plane. It was purely her own self-interest she was concerned with," Belodoff told the New York Post.
He admitted he didn't know who Huffington was, but he did know that after repeatedly telling the flight attendant what Huffington was doing, the flight attendant did not address the issue. That's when Belodoff got more animated:
"I see a hand in front of me with a BlackBerry," said Belodoff, who owns E&B Floors, a floor installation business, in Plainview, L.I.
Belodoff said when his attempts to notify the flight attendant grew fruitless, he yelled out in frustration.
"So, I yell to him, ‘She’s on her BlackBerry!’" he recounted.
When the plane takes off "she’s still on it and I’m ringing my buzzer [to notify the flight attendant]. And finally, I said, ‘What is wrong with you?’ And I’m getting louder and louder."
Belodoff said that a flight attendant eventually persuaded Huffington to turn off the device and place it in her pocketbook, which was in an overhead bin, but she had been using it for at least 10 minutes after the plane was airborne.
Angry about what happened, he confronted the flight attendant about his alleged refusal to confront Huffington.
"I told him, ‘There’s probably a reason why they want you to turn it off on take off and upon landing,’ " he said.
"He says, ‘We’ll take care of it when we land.’
"I told him, ‘You didn’t even reprimand her!’
"’He tells me, ‘Calm down, sir!’ I told him I was calm. If I wasn’t calm, I would have ripped it out of her hand!’ "
She put the use of the BlackBerry ahead of the safety of the entire plane," he fumed.
Belodoff talked about the incident on Wednesday's "Fox and Friends":
The flight crew eventually notified police, who interviewed the two about the incident once they landed in New York. So far, nothing has become of those interviews.
Mario Ruiz, Huffington's representative, responded by mocking Belodoff and the incident: "There was a passenger who seemed upset. Arianna thought he didn't like the snacks. Guess not. Maybe he was an iPhone fan. As you know, the battle between iPhone lovers and BlackBerry users can get pretty heated."
But the incident begs the question: is it really unsafe to use a phone after the flight crew says not to? According to the FAA, yes.
In a fact sheet posted on its website, the FAA says that "there are still unknowns about the radio signals that portable electronic devices (PEDs) and cell phones give off. These signals, especially in large quantities and emitted over a long time, may unintentionally affect aircraft communications, navigation, flight control and electronic equipment."
That has been the prevailing sentiment for over 10 years. In a separate advisory dated October 2000, before 9/11, the FAA outlined its reasoning for banning cell phones in flight. The ban was "established because of the potential for portable electronic devices (PED) to interfere with aircraft communications and navigation equipment." It also explains the ban allows flight attendants to better communicate necessary safety instructions.
Important to note, too, is that the restriction on using cell phones in flight is not just an FAA regulation -- it's also an FCC rule. "Since 1991, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has banned the inflight use of 800 MHz cell phones because of potential interference with ground networks," the fact sheet says.
Those safety issues and regulations are what prompted Beledoff to protest so loudly. But it was frustration with the flight attendant's and Huffington's responses that led to an exchange with Huffington while walking away from police.
"I told her, ‘Don’t get hit by a bus,’" he admitted to the Post.