“Please turn off and stow all electronic devices.”
If you fly regularly in the U.S., those words are likened to nails on a chalkboard for you. During takeoff, landing, taxiing, and while below 10,000 feet, the use of any and all personal electronics is banned in the U.S. And there has been an increasing amount of controversy surrounding the issue for years now.
The FAA has been immense pressure to allow use of some electronic devices, such as e-readers or MP3, players, during the duration of the flight – even during takeoff and landing. The current regulations have remained virtually unchanged since the 1960s, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The disruption stems from the more lax flight regulations around the world. Many countries have began to allow limited cell phone usage while in flight; some even offer in-flight mobile data, such as Virgin Airlines.
The debate on whether electronic devices can cause interference and potentially disrupt the pilots’ controls has grown long in the tooth. There, allegedly, isn’t enough data to support or debunk the claim, so in-flight policies remain up in the air, hit or miss between countries around the world.
Unfortunately, here in the States, we’ve been stuck with the more strict policies that live by the “better safe than sorry” mantra. And it’s caused frustration all-around, between stubborn frequent fliers who are constantly annoyed by having to stow their devices for a few minutes out of the day and flight attendants who have to enforce rules they may not agree with and repeatedly remind fliers to turn off their devices.
We all know there’s that one guy who drags it out and put the flight attendants on edge right off the bat.
Late last week, however, The Wall Street Journal reported that strict in-flight policies may soon change. Andy Pasztor reports the FAA may be forced to update its regulations solely based on the pressure from the sheer number of dissatisfied passengers.
Based on draft recommendations, “The FAA’s anticipated decision would relax the rules for use of approved devices from the time cabin doors close to when the plane reaches 10,000 feet. Some devices, such as e-readers, could even be used during all phases of a flight,” says Pasztor.
The FAA is slated to make a decision “after it receives the final version of the advisory panel’s study,” Pasztor adds, which should now be no sooner than the end of September.
The question now is: does anyone care?
Of course someone does. In fact, I imagine most people would’t mind more relaxed in-flight rules. Remember that one time you forgot to turn your phone off during takeoff and nothing happened? The same thing happens hundreds – maybes even thousands – of times each day, and there still is no solid data to prove cell phones and other electronics interfere with the pilots’ control panels.
In May, Bloomberg’s Alan Levin reported that some airlines have even incorporated the use of iPads in lieu of the pilots’ paper charts and manuals, which are used through all phases of the flight, with FAA permission, of course. In that regard, why should passengers not also be allowed to use non-connected devices, such as tablets or e-readers, during all phases of flight?
On the flip side, all it takes is one freak instance. In a serious hypothetical, David Carson, who has assisted Boeing in industry evaluations of electronics, says damaged devices can and have transmitted on unintended frequencies. Levin says, “If those radio waves reach an antenna used for navigation, communication or some other purpose, it may distort the signal it’s supposed to receive.” Further, if a rogue electronic device were solely in the hands of pilots, the issue is much easier to contain than several hundred devices in the hands of hundreds of passengers.
While I don’t feel general devices – especially those restricted to Wi-Fi connectivity – pose a threat, I understand the FAA’s approach to the situation. It’s better to have blanket rules that eradicate the issue altogether than have one freak incident that takes even one life.
Stowing an electronic device for 15 to 20 minutes is a minor inconvenience, something we all should expect when we have a flight. And if that one text message, email, or song is so important, maybe you should consider a later flight.
Sure, I may be taking the moral high ground. I’ve been in those situations myself, where I wished the flight would be delayed by just a few minutes so I could finish what I was doing and avoid paying $15 for 45 minutes of Internet on a short flight.
But in the same respect, as long as I can listen to music, watch movies, and play games with my offline devices for the majority of the flight, I enjoy the temporary disconnect from the Internet. It’s, dare I say … relaxing.
What say you? Do you hope for relaxed in-flight regulations and the ability to use iPads or e-readers during taxiing, takeoff, and landing? Or do you enjoy a short, mandatory disconnect?