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Just Saying

Giving up my gadgets is a flight of fancy for now

Nothing's more scary than being stuck with one's own fidgeting self for company during a plane ride

The other day at an airport in Seoul, I saw a middle-aged Singaporean man have a spirited discussion with officials at the departure gate checkpoint. By spirited discussion, I mean he was screaming.

They were confiscating a tub of moisturiser, which looked about 10 times larger than the rules allowed - you could apply five coats on an average human and have some left over to slick down the family dog. What was he planning to do with so much cream mid-flight? Use it on a dry chicken entree?

He tried the usual rhetorical tactics, saying he never had a problem anywhere else, he had a medical condition, he didn't know the new rules - things I have also said to airport officials, parking wardens and school principals, with zero success.

Things snatched away from me at checkpoints include a can of Coke, contact lens solution and, on two occasions, penknives I forgot I had in my bag. ("This is not a knife, it's a multitool," I clarified when it was taken out, hoping that the people with the blue gloves would appreciate the subtle legal redefinition. They did not.)

Last week, the US and Britain said they will stop travellers from taking into aircraft cabins large electronic devices such as bigger cameras, tablets and laptops, if they board from some countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Last week, the US and Britain said they will stop travellers from taking into aircraft cabins large electronic devices such as bigger cameras, tablets and laptops, if they board from some countries in the Middle East and North Africa. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Something officers like to do, for psychological intimidation, is to place the naughty item down on a surface, take a step back and point at it with disappointment, as a parent might do with a child's report card, or heroin-filled condoms from a drug mule.

With my multitool (OK, penknife, whatever), they put it on that stainless steel table they all have, with its tiny blade flipped out.

They could have chosen to flip out the bottle opener or the tweezers instead, but I think they had an agenda.

Something officers like to do, for psychological intimidation, is to place the naughty item down on a surface, take a step back and point at it with disappointment, as a parent might do with a child's report card, or heroin-filled condoms from a drug mule.

One tactic the Seoul officers might have tried is to do what an officer once did when she confiscated an item of mine, which is, lie. She smiled and told me to relax, because it would be forwarded to my destination and I could collect it at the airline desk. No such thing happened, of course, but I admire the conflict-avoidance genius of that line.

Anyway, the day might come when we will board wearing nothing but plastic ID bracelets and hospital gowns and the plane will be one giant flying X-ray scanner, because last week came the news that the United States and Britain will stop travellers from taking into the cabin large electronic devices like bigger cameras, tablets and laptops, if they board from some countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Speaking selfishly, it looks like I'm fine for now to take along my usual haul of gear, which includes all of the above and a bit more, which is why I can forget things like knives in side pockets.

There is nothing more frightening to me than being stuck with my fidgeting self for company. I do know books and magazines exist, but what will my ears do while my eyes are scanning text?

My seat is my world in miniature for the duration of a flight, so I like to surround myself with scaled-down replicas of real-world belongings. Tablets are televisions, headphones are my loudspeakers, and so on. As a Singaporean, I grew up in a mini-home, drove mini-cars and spent two years sharing a room with 40 men, so I'm trained.

Still, I should learn to live for a few hours without my toys, before Naked Plane Rides happen. (It's going to be a lot less fun than it sounds.) I've already started by leaving everything in checked luggage except my phone, two sets of headphones (one is a spare) and a tablet.

That tablet is next on the decluttering list, but to quote closet organising expert Marie Kondo, the life-changing magic of tidying up will have to wait until they make phones with expanding screens.

One loophole might be to take on board an array of small phones that click together to make one giant one, Transformers-style.

Apple and Samsung, you are welcome.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'Giving up my gadgets is a flight of fancy for now'. Print Edition | Subscribe