Is it time to keep our devices on during takeoff and landing?

Published: March 27, 2013

In August of 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that they would be setting up a working group to study the impact portable electronic devices have on flights. We’re nearing the time when that particular committee is set to report their findings, so obviously the conversation about whether or not we should be allowed to use our personal electronics during takeoff and flight has begun to pick up.

Earlier this morning I was flipping through some news channels, and I saw that several different outlets were discussing the implications of being able to use your eReader, or tablet, or your smartphone while the plane is taking off from the tarmac. As it stands right now, once the plane is up off the ground and under 10,000 feet, you’re “not allowed” to use your device. The reasons are many, but it basically boils down to interference: No one wants anything to come in between your particular aircraft’s hardware and electronics, lest something terrible happen.

If you’ve been on a flight, then you’ve gone through the routine. The flight attendants will tell you that it’s time to turn off all your personal devices, which include all those aforementioned devices and plenty of others. Now, if you’ve been on a flight, then you’ve probably seen someone not do that. You’ve probably even done it yourself. Many different devices are equipped with what’s called “airplane mode,” which effectively turns off all those pesky wireless connections. No Wi-Fi. No Bluetooth. No cellular connectivity. So, for all intents and purposes, the belief is that with airplane mode activated, the worry about interference is unfounded.

I’ve been on flights where attendants have told patrons that the device had to be turned off entirely, that having airplane mode turned on wasn’t good enough.

Well, okay then.

Some might consider this to be a non-issue. Those folks would suggest that those are simply the rules, and that we should just follow them. On the other side of the argument, though, and the one that’s certainly been picking up speed over the last few years, is that the rules need to be updated, because there’s simply just so much technology in our lives. Basically, our world has changed, and it’s time for the rules to evolve.

So, let’s just look at it from one side, and then the other. I want to get your opinion on this, as usual, so I want to paint a pretty clear picture for both sides before we get to the end, and before you can add your own text to the brouhaha.

Let’s go beyond “just follow the rules.” On most flights, flight attendants use a large chunk of the time the plane is ascending into the air to talk about the safety regulations all the passengers on board need to know. That’s where the exits are, how your safety belt works and that the bottom seat cushion works as a flotation device, plus other pieces of information. It’s a pretty safe assumption that this is necessary information, just in case of any type of emergency.

Flight attendants would probably like to have your full attention during this part. Even if it’s your 100th flight, or your 1,000th, and especially if it’s your first, knowing the safety information is essential and having a device that steals your attention from the “lesson plan” seems counterproductive, to say the least. I can understand this logic. Even if you’ve just picked up your brand new BlackBerry Z10, or your HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S 4 and you just can’t take your eyes off of it.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the simple fact that there’s been electronic devices left on during takeoff and during the landing, and nothing has happened. Indeed, the FAA has said that it does not know of any aviation accidents directly linked to interference from personal electronic devices. Anyone who’s had their phone, tablet, or eReader on during a flight’s ascent, or on the (safe) way down, can attest to that statement from the FAA.

From what I’ve been able to glean through my search on the Internet, it sounds like the ban on electronic devices during takeoff and landing is going to be changed, if not outright lifted. I tend to agree that times have certainly changed, and that we should look at the rules and how they relate to the presence of electronic devices in our lives. If these phones, tablets, and whatever else really don’t cause an issue with interference, then so be it, lift the ban. However, if there is any doubt, do what needs to be done.

I think we can give some room to the takeoff routine, though, right? Let the flight attendants have their time, unchallenged, to go over the safety information on each and every single flight. I know that it’s annoying, and that if you’ve flown more than five times it’s something that “you already know.” But look at it from their perspective, and how many different times they have to go over it every single day. I doubt they like doing it any more than you like hearing it, but it is necessary. You aren’t the only person on the flight, after all.

That’s my two cents, anyway. I want to hear from you now. Do you think that it’s time we lift the ban on electronic devices during takeoff and landing? Or do you believe it is better safe than to be sorry? Would you be willing to keep your device off so that you could watch the safety information presentation, if it meant you could have your device on for the rest of the ascent, and all the way through the landing? Let me know.

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