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Smile, Buckle Up and Behave; Hidden Cameras Fly Too

January 20, 2002

"This is your pilot. We have reached our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. And by the way, will the passenger in Seat 32B please keep his seat belt fastened?"

By now we should be accustomed to being on camera in stores, at work and nearly everywhere else. And soon you'll be on camera while flying with JetBlue Airways, the New York-based low-fare airline that serves 18 cities, including Long Beach and Ontario, Calif.

Amid ongoing security concerns in the airline industry, JetBlue is installing hidden cameras in passenger cabins that can be monitored by pilots. It plans to have the system running on at least one plane by Feb. 1 and on the rest of the airline's fleet of 22 Airbus A320s in the next few months, said Mark Dash, JetBlue program manager at Florida-based LiveTV , which is installing the system. He believes JetBlue will be the first U.S. airline to install security cameras in commercial passenger cabins. Delta Air Lines confirmed last week that it is testing a similar system.

"You're being watched for your own safety," said JetBlue spokeswoman Fionna Morrisson. But she acknowledged that "if you're acting against the law," the airline could take action. Dash said that besides alerting pilots to security problems, the cameras can also monitor smoking, air-rage incidents and other cabin activity. "There would be a video record of them [passengers] doing what they're not supposed to be doing," he said.

The airline's planes already carry antennas that feed up to 24 channels of live satellite TV to passengers' seats. The security cameras will "piggyback" on that system but instead feed video images of the cabin to two monitors on the flight deck, one for the pilot and one for the first officer, Dash said. Pilots will also get a weather channel but not, despite their joking requests, ESPN, he said, because "we really don't want the flight crew watching television."

JetBlue, which began operating two years ago, is on an expansion binge. It plans to buy 12 more planes this year and to expand from three round trips each day between New York's JFK, its main hub, and Long Beach, its new West Coast hub, to 27 per day by August 2003, Morrisson said.

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