“That means anything with an on-off switch has to be turned to the off position,” the flight attendent said in that awkward linguistic style that calls crashing into the ocean a water landing.
“It must be turned off,” the attendent repeated as if the passengers had ignored the first order. “Completely off; not placed in Airplane Mode.”
I can’t remember how many years I’ve heard this refrain. I always assumed it had something to do with electronic devices emiting signals that could interfere with the plane’s navigation system. I think I recall hearing a flight attendent say that several years ago. Ok, maybe 30 years ago.
I know practically nothing about electronics or navigation systems. I trust the experts.
The last decade has seen the growth of items in the flight attendent announcement of what counts as an electronic device: cell phones, computers, iPads, Kindles, handheld video games, noise cancelling ear phones.
If you’ve flown much you know the drill. You use your cell phone until the door closes. All electronic equipment remains off until you reach 10,000 feet. You hear a few beeps, followed by an announcement about turning on “approved electronic devices.”
I’ve often wondered how many people actually turn their devices off. Sometimes I forget to turn mine off.
I saw an article on this topic in Tuesday’s New York Times by Nick Bilton called “Fliers Must Turn Off Devices, but It’s Not Clear Why.”
Millions of Americans who got on a plane over the Thanksgiving holiday heard the admonition: “Please power down your electronic devices for takeoff.” And absolutely everyone obeyed. I know they did because no planes fell from the sky. No planes had to make an emergency landing because the avionics went haywire. No planes headed for Miami ended up in Anchorage. We were all made safe because we all turned off all our Kindles, iPads, iPhones, BlackBerrys and laptops, just as the Federal Aviation Administration told us to. ….
OK, that was sarcasm.
According to the F.A.A., 712 million passengers flew within the United States in 2010. Let’s assume that just 1 percent of those passengers — about two people per Boeing 737, a conservative number — left a cellphone, e-reader or laptop turned on during takeoff or landing. That would mean seven million people on 11 million flights endangered the lives of their fellow passengers.
Yet, in 2010, no crashes were attributed to people using technology on a plane. None were in 2009. Or 2008, 2007 and so on. You get the point.
… rules that are decades old persist without evidence to support the idea that someone reading an e-book or playing a video game during takeoff or landing is jeopardizing safety.
Bilton reports on a 2006 study that found “insufficient evidence to change the policy,” meaning the gadgets are presumed to be potentially dangerous unless they can be proven to be safe. It’s erring on the side of safety.
…I’m not arguing that passengers should be allowed to make phone calls while the plane zooms up into the sky. But, why can’t I read my Kindle or iPad during takeoff and landing? E-readers and cellphones can be easily put into “Airplane Mode” which disables the device’s radio signals.
One part of the article in particular drew my attention. Having everyone turn off their devices might actually create a greater hazard.
The government might be causing more unnecessary interference on planes by asking people to shut their devices down for take-off and landing and then giving them permission to restart all at the same time. According to electrical engineers, when the electronic device starts, electric current passes through every part of the gadget, including GPS, Wi-Fi, cellular radio and microprocessor.
It’s the equivalent of waking someone up with a dozen people yelling into bullhorns.
Bilton’s conclusion is
As more and more people transition from paper products to digital ones, maybe it’s time to change these rules.
The article received almost 200 comments. So many comments that Bilton wrote a second article — titled “It’s called ‘Airplane mode’ for a reason” — to respond to the comments. That article is available here: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/28/its-called-airplane-mode-for-a-reason/
The consensus of the comments, like many issues in homeland security, is polarized. Some people believe the risk is overblown. Other people believe the risk, while small, is potentially serious. One person says he’s flown on Air Force One several times and no one every turned off their phone. Another person, a pilot, said his GPS navigation went blank once because someone in the plane was using a cell phone.
Surely if electronic gadgets could bring down an airplane, you can be sure that the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, which has a consuming fear of 3.5 ounces of hand lotion and gel shoe inserts, wouldn’t allow passengers to board a plane with an iPad or Kindle, for fear that they would be used by terrorists.