The Federal Aviation Administration is considering updating its restrictions on electronic devices to let passengers use them during take-off, landing, and taxiing, according to the Wall Street Journal. If the ban is lifted, passengers may be able to keep their e-readers on all the way throughout the flight. Finally we will all be able to stop reading SkyMall.
Of all the regulatory hoops that passengers have to jump through to get on a plane (removing shoes, invasive scanners, disposing of liquids) the rules regarding electronic devices have seemingly caused the most problems for celebrities. Very few people have forgotten Alec Baldwin getting kicked off of an American Airlines flight for refusing to turn off of his phone – a PR snafu that he now makes fun of.
A month after the incident, Arianna Huffington was kicked off a plane for failing to turn off her Blackberry. Many people – celebrities or otherwise – have commented that if uploading a picture of the wing to Instagram is enough to cause the entire plane to crash into the ground, doesn’t the FAA have bigger safety issues to deal with?
The ban on electronic devices isn’t new; it’s been in effect since 1966. According to the USA Today, all devices emit radio signals that can interfere with instruments and navigational equipment. While one person trying to finish a chapter on their Kindle might not cause a 747 to drop out of the sky, a collective group of device users can mess with the electronics.
The USA Today also gave concrete examples of instruments being affected by passengers using their phones. They cited reports from NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System:
Pilots descending to land in Baltimore watched their instruments swinging oddly until they broke out of the clouds at 1,800 feet almost a mile off course. They concluded that numerous passengers using their cellphones had caused the error.
However, The Verge reports that in the past 50 years, technology has become more advanced than the FAA gives it credit for. Plane instruments can tolerate radio waves better while personal devices give off a tighter range of frequencies.
It appears that we can add airline regulations to the list of laws that need to evolve with the times. Technology evolves so rapidly that lawmakers have to redraft laws in anticipation of tech revolutions. For example, West Virginia has already banned Google Glass while driving. As our tools evolve and grow, so should our regulations and laws to make sure the legislature is still relevant.
It’s entirely possible that the FAA will ease its electronic device regulations partially and only give the green light to small, less intrusive items. Gadgets like e-readers might make the cut while cell phones could stay on the banned list.
As a collective, I think we can agree that some electronic options are still better than no electronic options. Hopefully the FAA will take a step towards improving air travel instead of maintaining the status quo.