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April 9, 2007

Climbing High but Flying Higher

An assault on a bogus world record is happening in late May, sponsored by Motorola. Mountaineer Rod Baber will attempt to climb Mt. Everest (which has been done thousands of times) and then make what this BBC article (or is it a press release?) terms "the world's highest phone call." Which would all be well and good, except that plenty of people have made higher phone calls, including my mother.

If we define a "phone call" as voice communication with someone not within earshot, then astronauts have made much higher phone calls than Baber, as has anyone who's ever used an AirPhone.

If we want to restrict the record to cellphone calls, Beber is still out of luck. Even though the FAA has recently banned consideration of the use of phones during flight (Reuters), people on private jets routinely make phone calls. Though most private planes fly below 29,028 feet of altitude (Everest's height), some of the bigger ones (like Air Force One) routinely fly higher than 30,000 feet. In fact, on Sept. 11, 2001, connectivity issues forced Bush to use an ordinary cellphone to talk to Dick Cheney from the air (CooperativeResearch.org). Also on 9/11, several passengers on the hijacked jets made calls from flights that were probably above 30,000 feet.

Then, of course, there's my mom, who sometimes forgets to turn off her phone at the start of flights and then feels compelled to answer it when it rings. (She also has this compunction at the movie theater.) So I say let's give her the record, and we can save Mr. Baber from what promises to be a cold and expensive trip.

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