Airport Takeoff/Landing Rule for Gadgets May Be Nuked by 4Q13

If you've flown on an airplane over the last decade or so, you've certainly scoffed at the silly rule that dictates you switch off all electronics during takeoff and landing. There really doesn't seem to be a need in doing so, especially if the device is set to airplane mode, which essentially turns off all radio-based input and output.

On the way back from CES 2013, a pilot riding standby next to me said there's no real reason why passengers must turn off their devices. The only valid reason he could think of was the amount of incoming and outgoing transmissions per plane that could possibly interfere with the tower. With around 200 passengers on board, that's a lot of incoming and outgoing signals for one vehicle. Now multiply that with the number of airplanes ready to land or takeoff.

But, even with the rule in place, many passengers ignore the request and place their device in silent or airplane mode (guilty). Although the overall input/output may be reduced, it's not going to be eliminated completely unless the airline actually confiscates every device like pieces of luggage. That, of course, would be suicide for an already stumbling airline industry.

"So it's O.K. to have iPads in the cockpit; it's O.K. for flight attendants — and they are not in a panic — yet it's not O.K. for the traveling public," said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. "A flying copy of 'War and Peace' is more dangerous than a Kindle."

The problem with the takeoff/landing electronics rule, which was established by the Federal Aviation Administration, is that the government has provided no real evidence that device use interferes with the plane's avionics. Because of this lack of evidence, an industry group set out last year to see if electronic gadget interference was just a myth.

Unfortunately, it looks as if phones will continue to be on the "off list" during arrival and departure, but consumers may discover by the end of the year that their tablets and other reading devices may be permitted to stay powered on. This industry group – which is made up of people from Amazon, Boeing and other aircraft makers, the CEA, FCC and others – plans to introduce its findings on July 31.

The New York Times has received one of the group's internal documents that describes its objectives, one of which ensures that flight attendants do not have to be the social police regarding devices. The group is also trying to determine what "airplane mode" actually means, and to make sure whatever new rules are adopted will be applied to devices not on the market today.

The FAA needs to update its rules for an age of wearable computers. As the paper points out, many passengers are flying with devices that track your daily activity. By the end of the year, they'll sport devices like Google Glass and possibly Apple's iWatch. The computer has moved beyond the desktop and notebook form factors.

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  • icepick314
    I never turned off my devices during takeoff and landings...just on standby with screens off...

    EVERYONE should pay attention to the pre-flight announcements for emergencies, though...

    keep eyes on the nearest exit, how to prepare for emergency landing, what to expect during emergencies, how to put on the oxygen masks, and where the floatation devices are...those you should get to know before take-off...
  • cookoy
    I do as i'm told. Better safe than sorry. Calls and messages can wait until i'm safely on the ground.
  • toadhammer
    For phones, if the issue is too many on and trying to hit the local cell tower, there are solutions. It's relatively cheap to put a pico cell on a plane, if they can find the space. Think of it as the cellular equivalent of those phones embedded in the seat backs.

    And, the cellular version of this has existed (tested, everything) for several years. I can think of trials as far back as 2007.

    Edit: I work as a software engineer for a manufacturer of cellular network equipment.
  • vmem
    cookoyI do as i'm told. Better safe than sorry. Calls and messages can wait until i'm safely on the ground.
    But do you go around and make sure everyone sitting around you does the same? probably not? then chances are at least half of them just put their devices on standby. if having the devices on actually caused any realistic interference, just turning your own devices off isn't going to save anyone, just inconvenience yourself. as the article states, the only ways it'll work is if they confiscated all electronic devices, or to just let people use them
  • whiteodian
    The odds that all 78 of the passengers who travel on an average-size U.S. domestic flight have properly turned off their phones are infinitesimal: less than one in 100 quadrillion, by our rough calculation.
    I do think the Mythbusters determined that it is plausible that the devices would interfere. Better safe than sorry, but according to the statistics, it doesn't matter because it never happens.
  • SirGCal
    That's why I don't fly... Not that I can with my condition anyhow (Aggressive MS). But it's so annoying to fly the last few times I did, I'd rather take an extra day and drive. Going overseas maybe but... Sick of the air travel crap. Show up 2 hours before your flight, it's still 2 hours late taking off. Most of the time I really could have driven there faster anyhow (and cheaper)...
  • Anomalyx
    Nobody obeys the "turn your gadgets off" order anymore anyway. Every single flight I've been on in the last few years, I see someone with their phone out, texting during takeoff and landing. Just because a rule exists doesn't mean people follow it (just look at crime rates these days). If they were to cause a problem, a plane would have crashed by now.
  • SchizoFrog
    It's not just in the US either. I regularly fly between the UK and Germany and I just make sure I don't sit in the first few rows of seats or those rows further back where the flight attendants stand for the safety briefings so I keep my phone on (silent) and my MP3 player playing...

    As for the safety briefings, I treat them as a General treats plans during war. The best laid plans go out the window once battle is joined. It's all about adapting to the exact situation you face. If I am involved in a crash and there happens to be a hole in the side of the aircraft that I can escape through, you better believe I am not going to follow the illuminated arrows to the nearest exit. I'm going out through the hole and taking anyone injured that I can, with me...
  • house70
    I always put the phone on airplane mode; that being said, I find it utterly stupid to have to put my e-reader away. WTF, it has NO radio on it, it's just a screen with a battery.
    Rules need to adapt to technology, not fight it.
  • g-unit1111
    icepick314I never turned off my devices during takeoff and landings...just on standby with screens off...EVERYONE should pay attention to the pre-flight announcements for emergencies, though...
    $10 says no one ever will when this ban is lifted. :lol: