There’s No Good Reason To Turn Off Electronics During Take-Off And Landing

The New York Times had a blog article a couple of days ago on the sheer pointlessness of the FAA regulation that anything with an on-off switch has to be turned off anytime the airplane is under 10,000 feet. The Atlantic responded with a strong “hear, hear!” Both articles had a lot of response from sheeple shocked at even the questioning of safety regulations, so they both posted responses.

If the rule has a rational purpose (an assumption which is certainly not on firm standing), that purpose has to do with safety. The most common assumption deals with electronic interference, but here’s why that can’t possibly be true:

  • It isn’t enforced. The flight attendants tell you to turn your electronics off, but unlike seat belts, seat backs and bags beings stowed, no one checks to make sure you actually do.
  • Assuming a couple of people on each flight ignore the rule, that means about 1% of travelers do so, which means that in 2010, 7 million people on 11 million flights ignored the rule and nothing happened. Ever.
  • The TSA is worried that a 3.5oz shampoo bottle will take down the plane, but aren’t the least worried about 200 cell phones.
  • The FAA has no actual proof the devices will cause interference — the best they have is a study saying they can’t know either way, — but according to a spokesman, they like to err on the side of caution.
  • Aviation radio frequencies are restricted, and not used by commercial devices.
  • Aviation equipment is shielded from interference, exactly for safety reasons.
  • All pilots have GPS receivers just like yours, in their cockpit.
  • Many pilots have iPads (airlines are moving to digital manuals), noise-cancelling headsets and even cell-phones on during the whole flight.
  • Passengers in private and chartered jets and on Air Force One are never told to shut off their electronic devices, and it has never caused a problem.
  • The only reports of interference are anecdotal (e.g., one pilot claims that while he can’t prove it, an AM radio caused his scopes to go haywire), and they only number under a hundred, despite there being millions and millions of flights.
  • The rule makes people turn off devices that don’t even send or receive wireless transmissions: digital cameras, DVD players, e-readers in airplane mode, etc.
  • Every electronic device has to be approved by the FCC and comply with their rule that the “device may not cause harmful interference” and “must accept any interference received including interference that may cause undesired operation.” We can suppose that consumer electronics and especially airplane components comply with that FCC regulation.


FCC Part 15 Class A / Class B Verification Label


Besides electronic interference, the other reasons you hear about are related to physical safety. Here they are, and their counterarguments, in debate dialog form:

  • The FAA wants you to pay attention to the flight attendants in case of emergency.
  • If this were true, why do they let you read books, play Sudoku, and sleep?
  • Because those people’s attention can be grabbed with a PA announcement; someone watching Transformers on an iPad isn’t at all aware of their surroundings.
  • Neither is a sound sleeper, but in either case, why would Kindles and digital cameras have to be turned off?
  • Because if they’re not turned off, they may cause interference.
  • Even if they did (see above), the rule is not enforced — a dozen people could just forget them on in their luggage.
  • Maybe the plane can tolerate a dozen, but not a hundred.
  • Then why can it tolerate a hundred at 10,001 feet, but not at 9,999? Also, the FAA approves things like voice recorders and electric shavers for use under 10,000 feet — why not a digital camera or an iPhone in airplane mode?
  • If something should happen and your iPad goes flying around the cockpit, it can cause serious injury.
  • So can a hardcover edition of War and Peace. Besides, they don’t make you put your iPad away — you can keep it off and in your hands.
  • Also, if you talk on the phone for 4 hours, the guy sitting next to you might smack you.
  • Airplanes used to come with phones built in to the seat! But regardless, no one wants cell phone use — they want to read their Kindle for the 20 minutes it takes to get to 10,000 feet.

All these possible reasons are speculation, because, aside from the obviously bogus interference argument, the FAA won’t say exactly why they have the rule. But clearly, there is absolutely no good reason for the blanket scope to turn off all electronic devices. And if there is an actually reasonable explanation for the rule, this kind of blanket enforcement hurts the FAA in the same way that exaggerating the dangers of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll hurts parents, preachers and teachers: by taking their credibility away.

The point at which kids realize that pot doesn’t actually turn you into a retard overnight, is the point at which they’ll question every other thing their parents told them. There’s always the 10% that would never dare test their parents, but the other 90% don’t actually turn their phone off — they just put it in airplane mode; and not because of FAA regulations, but because its battery would die mid-flight, searching for signal.

From The New York Times and The Atlantic, via Lifehacker


  1. Alec Baldwin Also Thinks Flying Sucks | Apt46 - pingback on December 9, 2011 at 9:25 am
  2. Ironically, FAA Approves iPads For American Airlines Pilots | Apt46 - pingback on December 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm
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