The Sin of Reading a Book on a Plane – The Great Electronics Debate

Business class

Earlier this week the FAA let leak the fact they might consider loosening the rules regarding electronics on commercial aircraft. As many of us know, under current rules personal electronics must be turned off when the cabin door closes and cannot be turned on until the aircraft has reached at least 10,000 feet in altitude. When landing, these devices must again be turned off until the plane doors have been reopened on the ground. Many of us have long wondered the utility of these rules, suspecting that the reasons stated are dubious at best and outright lies at worst.

The arguments put forth by the FAA and aviation pros seem sound on their face, even if as a consumer it’s tough to ignore the fact that pilots are now allowed to use iPads in the cockpit. Experts say that electronic equipment could interfere with various onboard instruments, a major concern during takeoff and landing obviously. The other reason is that it is important for passengers to give flight attendants their full attention as these are the most potentially dangerous times of any flight. Makes sense, right?

My problem with this logic has always been that it seems faulty to me. If this truly were a concern, personal electronics probably wouldn’t even be allowed on board planes at all. Why? Because many people don’t actually turn them off, including me. Oh I’m not one of those jerks who uses their cell phone after the doors have closed, or read my iPad when I shouldn’t. No, I close my e-reader and put it in the seatback in front of me but I never actually turn it off. I suspect many other people do the same. They shut the cover of their Kindle or iPad, not turning it off, and wait until the “ding ding” sounds throughout the cabin to continue reading their book or magazine. The FAA, flight attendants and pilots surely must realize this and so they tacitly acknowledge the fact that an electronic device in the on-position is not necessarily a problem. If it were, if this truly was a matter of life or death the restrictions would be extreme. As fliers we have all seen how the powers-that-be take steps in order to ban items that may negatively impact the safety of a flight, as well they should. The fact that millions of people fly every year with personal electronic devices in the on position obviously doesn’t bother anyone, or this wouldn’t even be a question.

Lufthansa A380 Cabin

Inconsistency of rules has been an issue, according to New York Times columnist Nick Bilton:

“As I wrote in 2011, travelers are told to turn off their iPads and Kindles for takeoff and landing, yet there is no proof that these devices affect a plane’s avionics. To add to the confusion, the F.A.A. permits passengers to use electric razors and audio recorders during all phases of flight, even though those give off more electronic emissions than reading tablets.”Disruptions: F.A.A. May Loosen Curbs on Fliers’ Use of Electronics

It seems to me that what does exist is uncertainly about the effects of electronic devices on equipment, but not to the levels enough to cause officials to take decisive action.

I’m not an idiot and I am definitely not a rule breaker. I don’t want to put my life or anyone else’s in danger and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women who take care of me when I’m up in the air. That being said, this rule in my personal, humble and not all that knowledgeable opinion is antiquated and in need of change. In practice this rule barely exists, so why not go ahead and officially change it?

What do you think? Should the FAA allow passengers to use personal electronics (NOT cell phones) anytime they want during a flight?

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By: Matt Long

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11 Responses

  1. Talon

    I completely agree! I do the same. I never turn my cell phone, laptop, or Kindle off. I just put them in the bin or put them down and wait until we’re given the official okay to start using them again. It’s incredibly silly.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Glad I’m not alone! Just as I suspected…

      Reply
  2. Christina S.

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate/paranoid flier: why DON’T you turn it off? You are choosing to break a rule. Why? It takes no more than a minute to power these devices on and off. I really don’t understand why people don’t turn them off. Is it about pushing the limits? The thrill of breaking what we all agree is a kind of stupid rule?

    Until flight attendants can police “airplane mode,” it seems only fair to have an across the board rule. Because do you really want to be the jerk whose cell phone rings as you’re speeding down the runway because you didn’t turn it off and forgot to put it on airplane mode?

    This really strikes a nerve with me. There are lots of dumb rules in our ever day life, what if we all started breaking them?

    Reply
  3. John

    Sorry, I’m with Matt on this one. They have never been able to give a valid reason for the ban, and I always question what I perceive as random orders from the powers that be. Dumb rules need to be broken so that they can be changed.

    Reply
  4. Doryce

    On my last flight, UA Chicago to Houston, the flight attendant was using her iPhone during the entire landing process. Not sure why it is not dangerous for crew, but dangerous for everyone else?

    Reply
  5. Melvin

    Remind me that I never fly with you together! You have no trouble putting people in such a dangerous situation? How can’t you turn your devices off? Isn’t it enough that 75% of the people around you bring you in danger? Do you think the guys at FAA are idiots? Seems they are… hahaha
    Just joking of course! Those rules are so dumb and someone told me that there have been studies about having all those devices turned on and that they do NOT affect anything. I haven’t read that study and believe that guy who told me that…. even if I can’t remember who that was. LOL
    I’ve !pretended! to answer my phone while landing/starting a few times and said something like: “Hi mum… Sorry I can’t talk to you right now. I’m in the plane and we are just landing!…”
    That gets you some good attention! LOL

    Reply
  6. Harvey (H-Bomb's Worldwide Karaoke)

    There’s no good reason for the current policy. None.

    Another type of electronic device that I’ve been known to operate during takeoff or landing is a digital camera. I’ve occasionally gotten some really good shots that way (aerial shots of landmarks), and miraculously the plane’s navigation system didn’t go haywire.

    I actually have always been dutiful about turning off my cellphone, but now I think I’ll be emboldened to leave it in the “on” position in the seatback pouch. I do hate the long wait for my phone to start up so that I can check in on Facebook to the airport that I just landed at . :) I don’t understand the necessity for leaving a Kindle on, though (unless you’re going to continue reading on it), since those things power up instantaneously anyway.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Just make sure it’s in airplane mode though! I am a stickler about that.

      Reply
  7. Sharina

    I proudly admit that I diligently put all my devices on “airplane mode” as soon as I settle in my seat. :D And yes, I do observe the take-off and landing periods. However, I sometime find this period too long a wait at one time. Especially if I was onto a good read and the flight wasn’t quite a long-haul one so I would be anxious to maximise my in-flight reading time. The plane seems to have levelled up on air after take-off, yet the seatbelt sign is still activated.

    Yeah, I wonder too about the electronics disrupting the airplane take-off and landing operations. I trust the airlines are doing their best to protect passengers safety anyways.

    Reply
  8. Obinna Ekezie

    This is a very interesting post. I have always abided by these rules, though I’ve seen others blatantly look the other way. I often wonder whether or not the electronic devices do need to be turned off, or if turning them off is a way for the flight attendants to keep everyone focused on other things during takeoff/landing.

    Perhaps, if people were allowed to continuously use their devices during takeoff/landing, that could alleviate some of the stress that nervous fliers experience. At this point, we will have to wait and hope we are given an answer.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Hopefully that answer will come soon!

      Reply

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