Not much difference between airline passengers and a bag of potatoes

This is your captain speaking.

Good news from Boeing, just in time for the holiday flying madness. With the growing popularity of on-board WiFi, engineers there needed to figure out how it propagates in an airline cabin.

There’s no mathematical model for predicting what happens to WiFi signals when you have a few hundred people packed together inside of a metal tube. So they came up with a testing protocol.

Boeing is proud of the fact that it only requires about ten hours to complete the series of tests. That’s a lot faster than the two weeks they thought it would take. But it’s still a lot longer than they thought real people would want to spend sitting on a plane going nowhere (they should pass that amazing conclusion on to Delta). So they improvised…

The team determined that potatoes were ideal stand-ins for passengers, given their similar physical interactions with electronic signal properties. Much of the testing was conducted on the grounded airplane with the seats filled with 20,000 pounds of potato sacks.

Judging from the video of the test, the potatoes were as helpful as the average frequent flier and no less attractive.

The testing should help airlines and regulators better deal with the twenty-first century. Right now, you’re required to power down any device that has an on-off switch before take off, even if you do spend the next several hours sitting on the ground like a sack of spuds with nothing to read except the airline magazine, assuming it’s still in the seat pocket and the pages aren’t stuck together.

Would you like fries with that?