More on the F.A.A.'s Electronics Rules

Last month, I had some fun with Alec Baldwin and American Airlines' horrible customer service.

Of course, the underlying problem is the Federal Aviation Administrations' silly rules about devices being used by passengers before takeoff and landing.  The New York Times followed up on the issue in the wake of the Baldwin incident and concluded...

“The only reason these rules exist from the F.A.A. is because of agency inertia and paranoia.”
The F.A.A. and other groups seem to be running out of reasons we can’t use digital e-readers on planes during takeoff and landing. Maybe their next response will be: “Because I said so!”

Yeah, that is about right.


  1. I can't believe this, but I'm going to defend the FAA here. Paranoia is an irrational fear. Their fear is entirely rational.

    My job is to get computer systems to work correctly, and it is impossible for our internal development and testing to cover all the combinations that the real world throws at us. The FAA similarly is not able to do the testing to be certain that none of the devices in question will interfere with the cockpit systems.

    And the time in which a pilot could recognize that the computer was screwing up, take manual control, and safely complete either a takeoff or landing, cuts the margin for error too thin.

    It's actually possible that the only real problem would be if someone from First Class took a Kindle into the restroom immediately adjacent to the cockpit, and left the WiFi or cellular transceiver turned on. But there's no way the flight attendants can tell First Class passengers not to use certain devices, while we schlubs in Economy are allowed to. Rules have to be broad enough to cover the real threats, and that means they'll also cover non-threats.

    So the safest rule is to turn off everything that might emit EM radiation before takeoff, and don't turn it back on until the plane has enough altitude to recover should something bad happen.

  2. And the pilots (even military) are using iPads in their cockpits right now. They were using hand help GPS units too. Any explanation there?

  3. Monster,

    Here is why I disagree with your position: Airlines in other nations do not have these rules. Where is the list of incidents due to interference? There is none, other than a couple of anecdotal occurrences that could not be reproduced when the planes landed.

    Like the 2:22pm comment points out, United, jetBlue, Alaska and others are using iPads in the cockpits. If the level if interference from these devices when they are immediately next to the avionics is not sufficient to cause a problem then it is unlikely that a Kindle in the back of the plane will, either.

    I actually do not have a problem with leaving them off for TO and landing out of the "abundance of caution" rule. However, I had an Allegiant FA make me turn mine off 45 minutes (!) before landing in Vegas and I had a UA FA get all over me for turning mine on at 30,000' (I was listening to Channel 9, air-to-ground communications)! Alec Baldwin's incident came when the plane was at the gate.

    UA cancelled a flight of mine earlier this month, but we sat at the gate for 90 minutes before they did so. They insisted we had to have our electronic devices off for the first 45 minutes of the delay! Frankly, I think there are a lot of FA's that just like to nag passengers.

    So, lets turn them off when the plane pulls away from the gate (the FA's always go down the aisle between leaving the gate and TO) and when the plane is on final approach (i.e., 5,000' and below).

    Otherwise, stop harassing passengers.


  4. Just because pilots use some devices in the cockpit doesn't mean much. If they know how to disable all RF emissions, if they've been tested and known to be good, shut them down at the actual takeoff/landing... that doesn't necessarily translate to "It's safe for J. Random Passenger to use Device X that might have RF turned on....

    So, lets turn them off when the plane pulls away from the gate (the FA's always go down the aisle between leaving the gate and TO) and when the plane is on final approach (i.e., 5,000' and below).

    I agree with this completely. If they did that, the actual time we have to shut our devices down would only be a few minutes each way, and would obviously be focused on the critical periods of vulnerability, I think there wouldn't be nearly as much friction over it.


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