Monday, November 28, 2011

An attempt to explain the "turn off your devices" rule

We've all been there. The plane taxis back from the gate. Something important happens on the internet! You scroll down your mobile device when suddenly a stern-looking flight attendant tells you that the device can't be used during take-off and landing, and can only be used with transmission disabled later in the flight. When you've been told it's okay. Because, apparently, it could cause the plane to fall from the sky.

Apparently not. As this Times blog post points out, no plane has ever dropped from the sky due to the use of a mobile device. Ever. Many mobile devices have come in to existence since these rules were put in to place, but all are banned. (And why can you use a cell phone but not a laptop during post-landing taxi when the two technologies are quickly converging?) The best reason anyone can offer that this ban exists is that there is no evidence that electronic gadgets can't interfere with a plane. But, of course, the same study found that there is no evidence that they can. In fact, the FAA doesn't even have (pdf) a set list of devices they ban, but they leave it up to the airlines.

Obviously, this is a large load of horse hockey. I've frequently not only not turned off my device, but actively used it. Here are some examples:

  • In June of 2008, I was on a flight from DEN to MSP which was delayed, allowing me to listen to some of the Celtics-Lakers finals game being played (my father played the radio in to a cell phone which I held to my ear away from the aisle). We finally took off during the fourth quarter, at which point I was able to carry the cell phone call through about 4000 feet. The Celtics won. The fellow next to me appreciated the score updates; the woman across the aisle gave me a stare of death. The airplane flight was without any consequence.
  • The next year, I was flying over a friends' house approaching the airport. I sent a text message to that effect. The plane landed safely.
  • I never power down my computer. I simply put it to sleep.
  • In 2010, I used Google Voice to dial in to a conference call through GoGo inflight, which was forbidden by GoGo but worked like a charm with Google Voice. So there goes the "they don't want people having conversations" argument.
  • I've recently been using an iPhone speedometer app to see how fast planes are traveling when they take off and land. It doesn't work so well at high altitudes. But it hasn't yet crashed a plane.
And every time I fly, I try to think of new ways to subvert this rule. I never take the battery out of my wristwatch (which certainly could crash a plane!). Maybe next time I'll turn on my headlamp to see what happens (probably a plane crash) or bring a transistor radio (crash-tastic). A few years ago I had a pilot dial up the local Boston Red Sox affiliate and play AM radio over the in-flight entertainment system until the signal was lost (Channel 9 on United is quite versatile). And the plane arrived at it's destination unscathed.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, Patrick Smith on Salon has commented on this issue, especially as concerns laptops. His comment was that during abrupt acceleration shifts, like you experience in takeoff and landing, a heavy electronic device like a laptop can become a projectile hurtling through the cabin. That's a good enough reason for me to keep them stowed during takeoff and landing. Note that this explanation has nothing whatsoever to do with electronic interference.