Ding! FAA May Roll Back Stupid Restrictions On Electronic Device Use

Good news for the flying, gaming public: The Federal Aviation Administration's bullshit, insulting-to-the-intelligence rules for the use of "approved portable electronic devices" are due to be relaxed, allowing for gate-to-gate use of your iPad, 3DS, Android phone or whatever. This could come as early as September.

That's according to reports by the Wall Street Journal on Friday and the Associated Press yesterday. The journal said a draft report by an advisory committee indicates all 28 of its members have come to a consensus that some of the current rules should be eased. The AP says committee members asked for extra time, to September, to finish evaluating whether it's safe to lift restrictions.

Protip: It is. While I'm not about to make this into a cause for civil disobedience, the hell if I do anything other than put whatever I'm carrying into the seatback pouch. I don't even put it in aeroplane mode. (I use that when only when I don't want to be interrupted by a call.) Notifications from flight attendants have become increasingly specific and increasingly asinine — we're now up to "Anything with an on-off switch must be completely powered down, not put in aeroplane mode," as I heard on a flight to Detroit earlier in the year. I did nothing of the sort. When we landed I saw a text message alert from when we were in Canadian airspace, advising me of roaming data charges. Somehow, despite my reckless behaviour, the plane did not explode.

I can remember another flight a couple of years ago where the flight attendant insisted that the captain had some kind of monitor in the cockpit telling him there were still a few devices on, which is a lie. But on the off chance it wasn't, then my iPhone probably was one of the culprits. I never did anything, the plane still took off and, miraculously, did not explode.

Now, I'm not crazy about people using cell phone voice service — at all — while the plane is hurtling down the runway or, worse, midair. It's already crazy enough that as soon as the wheels touch down people whip out their phones to tell someone they've landed — never mind it will be another 10 minutes before they're walking through the terminal, and 30 if they have to get bags. Fortunately, that's all up to the Federal Communications Commission. But Boeing itself seems to think that cellular voice is safe enough on a flight; they're outfitting new planes to support the feature if the FCC approves it.

If the FAA wants to enforce restrictions on portable device use that actually do improve the flying experience, I have one big suggestion: Use headphones at all times or mute the device. Do not play any sound over your device's speakers. It blows me away how many people think this OK. It is inconsiderate as hell. If you're flying with someone who wants to watch, too, either share earbuds or tough shit.

I realise this is a very bellicose opinion on a subject that affects a lot of people, not just me, but I have to think attitudes have sharpened on this because of the insulting way we've all been treated, particularly since — I'm gonna say it, sorry — 9/11. We already pay for bags, take off our shoes, go through an x-ray peepshow, and comply with all sorts of other unfriendly treatment on the Amtrak of the Sky. At least give us back this.

Practically every argument for why airlines should be trusted when they issue their orders against electronic device use has been shot down. Oh, it's about having your attention? Then why is reading The New York Times on my iPad more of a threat to my safety or others' than the guy next to me reading his much larger physical copy? Even if having your attention during a critical phase of the flight was the purpose — an eminently reasonable request — the reason they never say this is because it'd require everyone to put everything away. Good luck enforcing that.

FAA moving toward easing electronic device use [Associated Press]


    Shame it will take CASA 3 years and another 2 years of government inquiries before the same happens here.

    Use airplane mode and don't be a dick like the writer of this article. Marvel at the fact you are sitting on a seat that is a kilometer in the air, not be pissed that you cant use your phone.

      Don't be such an ass when you have precisely zero understanding of the actual facts and technology involved in the situation. All equipment and wiring on modern aircraft is EM-shielded. The electronic relays used by aircraft and airports use very specific bandwidths which are comparative miles away from those used by mobile phones, deliberately so. You have as much risk of influencing the plane's equipment using a walkman or the plane's built-in in-flight entertainment as you do using a mobile phone. This wasn't always the case, but it is the fact with modern commercial aircraft. This is why Boeing is planning to introduce the capacity to cater for mobile phone coverage.

    While I’m not going to argue with you about the dangers (or complete lack thereof) of running electronic devices on planes, at the end of the day you’re an asshat for not just doing what you’re told.

    It’s a decision made by people who know more about flight than you do, and just because you think you know that it’s safe doesn’t give you the right to (in a worst case scenario) compromise the safety of others because you’ve made a decision about what’s safe and what’s not.

    At the end of the day you’re probably right about the use of these devices. It just annoys me the idea of some idiot making up his own mind and deciding that the rules shouldn’t apply to him. It’s not a huge leap between this kind of thing and “I should be allowed to bring a knife on the plane because I know what’s safe and it will be fine” or “I’ll pack a flammable canister in my bag because I know it won’t explode”. You have to cater to the lowest common denominator when making rules for flying, I’d rather the FAA insults your intelligence then have every moron on the plane deciding they know better.

      And there are a lot of douches when it comes to flying.

      In the spectrum of risky things to do, risky things that actually endanger other people's lives, I'd say using a device on a plane sits fairly low. Evidence being the fact that there's never a single plane that takes off that doesn't have a so-called "ass hat" using his/her device. How many planes have crashed due to Ass Hat and their disobedience? NONE. So you still gonna sit there and blindly obey clearly outdated and ridiculous instructions?

      And no, it's an absolutely gargantuan leap between ipads and knives/cannisters etc on planes. Knives are used for stabbing/hijacking, and cannisters explode under high air pressure, rules based on things that have ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

      Last edited 24/06/13 11:26 am

        My argument is that it’s not up to you to decide what is safe and what isn’t.

        Just because planes aren’t falling out of the sky doesn’t mean the rules are “clearly” outdated. Every aviation authority I know of (and admittedly that’s only a few) shares similar restrictions so there must be SOME concern there at least.

        You might think it’s safe to have your 3DS on during takeoff, Owen might think it’s fine to have it on with Wi-Fi enabled, I might decide that an electronic device (from the thousands and thousands of options) is safe which actually interferes with the planes radio. It doesn’t mean it’s going cause the plane to plummet into the ground, but any interference at all adds unnecessary risk to the process of flying.

        You have to cater to the lowest common denominatior, and if you think I’m an idiot, and I think you’re an idiot, maybe we should not be complete tools and agree to just follow what the experts tell us since we’re going to share a giant can flying through the sky.

        People do an assortment of stupid things which endanger others all the time, but for Owen to go out of his way to write a public article which essentially says “Hey, I’m Owen Good and I know so much about electronics and flight systems that I’ve decided you can’t endanger a flight with your electronic device.” is f*cking stupid. Nothing wrong with reporting that the FAA is considering changes without adding your own potentially dangerous opinion on something you don’t know anything about.

        It doesn't matter that they are outdated and ridiculous instructions.
        They're instructions. You follow.
        It's a private vehicle, they can set any rule they want. Cabin staff could walk in holding pink bandanas, and say that everyone needs to wear one to stop the aliens from reading their thoughts, or they'll remove you from the plane.

        And if you don't follow, they are totally entitled to remove you from the plane (failure to follow cabin directions etc).
        It would be a PR disaster, and no company would do it. But they could do it.

        The time they are currently asking for the devices to be off is relatively short, and if you can't survive for those few minutes you may have more serious issues.

          It doesn't matter that they are outdated and ridiculous instructions.
          They're instructions. You follow.


          Please, don't do things because you are asked/told to. Do things because you've exercised critical thinking and decided it's the best course of action.

          I've researched the whole idea of electronics/phones interfering with planes, decided it's harmless (as my friend, who is a telecommunications engineer and flight enthusiast said "If your phone could affect a plane, imagine what a tower would do to one!"), but I turn phone off because in this case it's not worth disobeying authority (10 mins gaming or being asked to leave... easy decision to make).

          In short I agree with your point, but you don't just follow instructions, even though they are outdated and ridiculous, because they come from an authority figure. That's where atrocities are born.

        And really, you dont want to mess around with aviation authorities.

      Yeah, actually. I kinda agree on this point. I might roll my eyes and groan internally about how idiotic it is, but I actually power shit off and put it away until told, purely for that reason - everyone's gotta do it, feel the peer pressure to do it, make it normal to do it, so that they follow all the rules. The canister is a good example.

      That said... it'll be good when they ease up.

        I just put my stuff in airplane mode. That's what airplane mode is for after all. I don't switch it off, just airplane mode to disable the wireless communications or whatever else on the device is enough.

        An electronic device that doesn't transmit anything isn't going to do anything, otherwise the TV's they use to play the safety videos would ironically be compromising the safety of the flight.

      Well said, so much more genteel than I would have been :)

      Agreed. I follow directions in many aspects of life, even if I know the consequences are probably harmless. I'm pretty sure we all do. Just because you think you're smarter than the rest doesn't mean you get to ignore the rules. Especially when the outcome may affect other people.

      The interesting thing is the author thinks anyone who legitimately waits until the plane has landed and then calls their loves ones to let them know they've touched down is 'crazy'. His attitude towards both flight staff and his other passengers is fairly obnoxious. The rather ironic complaints about people being 'inconsiderate as hell' is icing on the cake.

    I'm fine with putting my phone into airplane mode, that enforcement is perfectly sane.
    Really don't need people in every other row yelling down their phones to some disconnected stranger. No, not every is a loud phone talker, just like not every child is a problem flyer.

    What irks me about the 'all electronic devices must now be turned off' is that lots of devices have zero impact on the aircraft at all. Like a Game & Watch. Or a freaking Kindle. Airflight attendants always ask me to turn my Kindle off, despite the fact that it's 'off' state is virtually the same as it's on state.
    I concede that transmitting devices may need to be disabled (just radio off is fine) for the flight, but off is silly.

    I've never seen the point in arguing or pointing this out to flight staff though. They are just doing their job and can't change rules.

    Just stick your stuff on airplane mode. It's there for a reason.

      Airplane mode exists because of the rules, not because of safety.

    Do what you're bloody told Owen.

    The pros of switching off the device far outweighs the cons.
    You already stated you're annoyed by inconsiderate people on the phone, so why allow it? For the sake of a few more minutes on Candy Crush?

    Unless its different in the US, you're already allowed to use the phone midair if you turn it to flight mode, That not too difficult right?

    What about the primary reason for turning it off. Safety. Sure, there has been no solid proof that some people with phones on interfere with the flight navigation and systems...But is there proof that when ALL passengers carry one or multiple devices that it wouldn't effect the systems?

    I actually asked a flight attendant why this is the case once and its because during TO and LDG its the most dangerous time (the most dangerous time of flights is the first 4 minutes and the approach to landing) and they need you ready to act and move quick if something goes wrong.

    This is why bags under seats/stored and everything away. Basically they just want you sitting there looking out the window or relaxing ready to go at a moments notice. It's that simple and it makes sense

    if you can't deal with that then seriously don't fly. Its like 20 minutes if that and Qantas will let you turn everything back on as soon as you land. For some reason Virgin and Tiger do not in general, which is crazy.

    As a pilot, I find this kind of article is reckless and stupid. Simply put, every aircraft cannot be guaranteed to be protected against every electronic device, ever. Claiming that turning your phone on won't make a plane 'explode', and thus, is perfectly safe, is a highly flawed argument.

    Most likely (and I say 'likely' because there can be other effects for any given phone) there is the possibility of creating a LOT of radio communication interference between the aircraft and the ground control/other aircraft (similar how you can jam an FM/AM radio when you have a phone with an active call nearby).

    The list of flights that have crashed due to phone use may be negligible, but the list of crashes caused by communication breakdowns is long and sobering. The worst crash in aviation history (two 747's colliding on a fog-covered runway) could have been avoided had it not been for two seconds of radio interference. Phones were not responsible for that incident, but it's a very dangerous game to allow an entire plane of 300+ to use phones in-flight and open up the possibility for inadvertent radio-frequency jamming.

    Yes, technology marches on, and yes, newer planes or upgrade kits are coming online that allow calls, but the technology within is only on that particular airframe, not any others, and the law has to encompass everything. So, unless you get a specific say-so by a crewmember that phone use at that specific time is ok on your aircraft, the simple answer is DON'T. Your phone should be in aircraft mode the moment you leave your seat at the boarding gate and start walking to the aircraft.

    A good link that provides the ins and outs of aircraft phone myths: http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/beyond-bits-and-bytes/4395932/Mobile-phone-interference-with-plane-instruments--Myth-or-reality-

    Well put, Foggy.

    The "plane didn't explode when my phone was on" argument is disingenuous in the extreme.

    A lack of explosion doesn't mean that that iphone pointlessly left powered-on in your carry-on (as some kind of impotently douchetacular anti-establishment rebellion) might not cause some tiny interference with the plane's systems. Multiple that tiny interruption by several hundred and consider the fact that you're 10km up in a can controlled by professionals who really don't need any interference.

    If the odds were one in a million that you caused a problem, is your right to expose the majority to even a small risk worth it? How about 1 in 10 million? How do you decide on an 'acceptable risk' when you selfishly disobey the rules you consider 'stupid'?

    I work as crew for a very large airline myself, and while these devices may not interfere with the avionics or radio equipment on the aircraft (and on a few separate occasions sitting in the cockpit I have had our mobile phones cause the "rapping bee" effect coming through our headsets when trying to listen to the ATC tower) that is not the only reason that this policy exists.

    A good reason we are asked to turn these off for takeoff/landing is the takeoff and landing phase of the flight are the two most dangerous and important times to have minimal distractions in the event of an emergency or evacuation, and if you have your phone blasting music at full-bore you may not realise what is going on around you or hear any brace commands. If there is an evac and a huge fire down one end of the plane, and you get up and run the wrong way you could be shaving off the critical seconds that might otherwise save your life (not to mention the monkey-see monkey-do effect people have in panicked situations, you could cause a whole horde of people to go the wrong way and ultimately to their deaths).

    Another one is lithium battery fires. You really don't want a lithium battery fire on takeoff/landing. There will be nobody there to help you until the crew are able to get out of their seats and can actually see what is happening and grab the appropriate equipment to assist.
    I've had a lithium battery fire myself before, and they are NOT easy to put out.

    And lastly it isn't like the crew enjoy telling you to turn them off. It is their job. They don't want to have to offload you from the flight or risk receiving disciplinary action and possibly being fired as a result of you not turning your devices off.

    That being said, it will make all of our lives a lot easier if they do decide to overturn this decision.

    Last edited 24/06/13 5:41 pm

      Listen to this man people. I personall find it sad that people cannot break contact with our devices during the 10 mins at either end of the flight.

      This. It is so perfectly clear that having the devices away and paying attention during take off and landing is one of the main reasons this rule exists. I don't need an idiot next to me, listening to his iPod on full blast, to not hear the captain telling us to brace and be killed by his flailing limbs. Extreme and unlikely I know, but please for the love of god just be bored for 20 minutes before you land.

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