The Children’s Toy That Was Banned From Planes By The FAA

In mid-1980s the biggest toy in demand at the holidays was Cabbage Patch Kids, which were dolls that came with a birth certificate and adoption papers. There was a frenzy to get them. People bid up pricing on secondary markets long before eBay. Around 1983 you generally needed to know someone to get one.

1999’s big toy innovation was Furby, a robot toy that was kind of like a furry, colorful owl. 14 million were sold that one year alone. As long as it had batteries, Furby was on and talking. It began by speaking its own Furbish language, but as it listened to its owner it would learn English. Tickle the Furby and it might kiss you. If you rewarded that behavior with pets, the frequency of kisses would increase. If you had two Furby (Furbies?) they would talk to each other.

At the urging of the FAA, airlines required the removal of Furby batteries when passengers flew – and not for the usual (fire risk) that batteries need to be removed from some devices in checked luggage.

Specifically, the FAA “recommend[ed] that Furbys should not be on when the plane is below 10,000 feet.” But there was no off button.

It turns out that the NSA actually banned Furby from its headquarters fearing that the toy was a spy. It listened and reacted to sound and some people believed it repeated words when it spoke words that were similar to ones that its owners used.

The NSA looks stupid here because a Furby was not a recording device. The FAA, though, should have gone a step further. Airlines don’t want you listening to music without headphones. A Furby doesn’t come with a headphone jack or bluetooth and it’s an incessant chatterbox. Then again, they allow your seat opponent to speak so maybe if Furby was banned below 10,000 feet then listening to the person next to you share their life story should be also?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. A new upgraded Furby 2.0 with some augmented AI capabilities when within bluetooth range of your smartphone really would be able to spy on you, your family, and the NSA.

  2. @Dougie … Agree … Never trust anything from the computer industry … neither mobile-phones nor other devices . They all ought to be banned .

  3. I don’t understand why you think the NSA comes across as looking “stupid”. What exactly in their assessment was inaccurate? Does it not have a writeable chip? That means it could record audio. Now perhaps the standard toy doesn’t, but one could have easily have been compromised. I see this as a reasonable precaution at the time. It’s really easy to assess the credibility of security threats 25 years after the fact.

  4. Great, on top of electric tooth brushes now I have to worry about Furbys. Another cyber alert……

  5. “Personally owned photographic, video, and audio recording equipment are prohibited items.”

    Wow. Nowadays it seems like anyone and everyone is using their cellphone to do all three of those ‘prohibited’ actions on aircraft now. When did things change?

  6. @kimmiea: “Personally owned photographic, video, and audio recording equipment” was prohibited from the National Security Agency facilities, not from airplanes, per the second tweet above. The NSA never had any jurisdiction over airlines.

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