Talking tech since 2003

There are countless indignities travelers in the United States have to suffer when going through airports. From taking off our shoes and belts to literally having our naked bodies scanned and displayed to bored strangers, it’s all rough stuff. But there’s little that’s worse than when the flight attendants come around and tell us that one thing we’ve been dreading the whole time: we have to turn off our personal electronics because we’re about to take off. It’s literally the worst. But news hit yesterday that the Federal Aviation Administration, or the F.A.A., would meet this week to discuss loosening restrictions against using electronics during takeoffs and landings.

According to a piece in the New York Times, despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, researchers have yet to discover any hard proof that electronic devices like cell phones or tablets interfere with an airplane’s instruments. As for actual signals to and from cell phones or other cellular-enabled devices, those are restricted by the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.), so it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to start talking on your cell phone from the skies no matter what the F.A.A. decides this week.

Douglas Kidd, the head of the National Association of Airline Passengers (an association of which, prior to today, I had never heard nor ever imagined could exist), is quoted in the piece explaining the task ahead of the F.A.A. and its attempts to accommodate the gadget loving populace:

“This is like shooting at a moving target. We have to make sure the planes can handle this. But there’s a lot of pressure on the F.A.A. because passengers are very attached to their devices.”

I’m glad to hear that Kidd acknowledges how important it is that the planes be able to handle the electronic devices being used on-board, because ultimately that is the absolute most important reason behind the ban. Don’t get me wrong: I’m as put out as anyone that I can’t use my tablet or phone during takeoffs and landings. The fact that I have to turn off my device is endlessly aggravating.

But while you could argue the merits and drawbacks of the TSA’s enhanced security measures, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing when we get on a plane: we want the plane to stay in the air when it’s supposed to, and to land when it’s supposed to, all without exploding. If there’s a legitimate safety concern when it comes to lots of electronics potentially screwing with my pilot’s ability to do his or her job effectively, I’m really okay with turning off Angry Birds Star Wars until we’re in the air. I don’t care how “very attached” we passengers are to our devices. We’re grown-ups. We can deal with turning off our phones for, like, twenty minutes.

So that’s the real question: is there a danger? The article consults “aviation experts,” who say that most gadgets “use so little power that they are unable to interfere with a plane’s aeronautics.” If that’s the case, then let’s lift that dumb ban. But if there’s even the slightest chance that listening to another five minutes of a podcast about movies could crash my plane, by all means, F.A.A., take my phone away.

But maybe give me some better magazines to read.


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