Thursday, December 05, 2013

No more powering down

The FAA announced recently that soon we passengers will be able to use our electronic devices during take offs and landings. (Southwest already allows that -- or at least they did this past weekend.)  We won’t be able to pay the outrageous charge for the internet until we’ve climbed to 10,000 feet, but at least we won’t have to shut everything down for no reason while we wait an hour on the tarmac or circle Kennedy.

This of course is bad news for the Sky Mall. Admit it, the only time you scanned it was when you couldn’t continue reading and loving MUST KILL TV on your Kindle (was that subtle enough?).

It’s good news for passengers at a time when we don’t get much good news. Flying coach has now become the cattle car scene from DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. We’re charged for everything from luggage to pillows, blankets, food, five inches of legroom. In case of emergency I fully expect you soon will have to swipe your credit card before the oxygen masks drop down. In case of evacuation, American Airlines Platinum members exit first.

But my question is this: why was this silly rule there in the first place? Why was it necessary for safety purposes last Wednesday but not now? The reason we were always given was that if the nimrod in 36H continued to play Angry Birds or the dingbat in 22C continued to listen to Pink’s Greatest Hits the plane’s navigation system would go screwy and instead of landing in Los Angeles the jumbo jet would try to set down on Catalina. Now they’re saying that’s not true?

I’ve been on a number of charter flights with baseball teams and we never had to turn off our electronic devices. And how’s this for spitting in the face of death? Our chairs weren’t all in the upright position. Some extreme daredevils even had their tray tables down. During taxiing even! Not once did the captain come on the PA and say, “Well, due to one of you reading old text messages we now find ourselves in a no fly zone and so instead of landing in Cleveland we’ve just been attacked by two surface-to-air missiles.”

Make no mistake, I’m all for safety. And if there are legitimate reasons for shutting down devices or keeping seats in their most upright positions I’m happy to be the first one to comply. But sometimes I wonder. Yes, if there are new more improved navigation systems that eliminate any interference by electronic devices, then the revised rule makes sense. But is that the case? I’m just askin’.

Meanwhile, I plan to enjoy it as long as I can. Those Sky Mall people have powerful lobbies in Washington.

25 comments:

Mike said...

The truth is that the extent of electronic interference is unknown. We're using you as guinea pigs.

Professor Longnose said...

It's that they made a deal with Catalina Tourist Board.

benson said...

I'm sorry, but electronics aside, the real problem is human beings. Anyone who's ever taken a train, or bus probably at one time or another has been subject to listening to a loud talking drone of a person who doesn't care who hears what he/she/it has to say. Please God, no cellphone talking on flights. Please, oh, please, no.

Butch said...

I always thought the purpose was to ensure that you were paying attention to the flight attendant's safety instructions speech/movie, and also ready to take action if there's an emergency, as taking off and landing are the most dangerous times of a flight.

Admittedly most people are dozing or looking out the window, but on paper, in some FCC office, I'm sure it looked good.

Lothar said...

The rules were set up at a time with different types of electronics. A mobile phone searched for a carrier with up to 2 Watts. So in 30,000 feet you had hundreds of Watts of sending power in your back.

With specific landing conditions mobile phones might still be an issue today. With CAT 3 procedures the airplane is effectively landing by itself guided by radio. Even passing cars during that landing can lead to meters of derivation which might be enough for a crash (a runway isn't that wide). Not a crash but a lot of damage happened in Frankfurt (Germany) where exactly that happened during a CAT 3 test landing where a maintenance car (not aware that there is a ongoing CAT 3 landing) was passing the ILS-antennaes.

J. Allison said...

The reason you put your seat and tray table up is to clear a path to the aisle in case you need to evacuate the plane. Same goes for stowing carry-ons. I find this totally reasonable.

The electronics stuff has always been voodoo.

JMW said...

The prohibition against cell phone use has been an FCC rule, not an FAA rule. At altitude your phone would "see" too many cell towers at once and potentially confuse the system.

The FCC reg says that electronic equipment can be used by passengers if the pilot has determined it will not interfere with the airplane's navigation and communications systems. That's easy enough to do in my 4-seater, but a bit more difficult on a 767. So the airlines just complied by prohibiting everything. Apparently now they've determined that your iPad isn't going to hurt anything- especially considering that almost every pilot in the air uses one in the cockpit to replace carrying around 40 pounds of bulky paper charts. So the rules have been relaxed. Still, I prefer my 4-seater.

Colleen said...

Yep Just what J. Alison said. Electronics was nonsense but people need to sit upright so the person behind you isn't blocked from getting out in an emergency by a reclining seat.

Covarr said...

Alec Baldwin is throwing a party right now.

McAlvie said...

I've always suspected that the prohibition had more to do with making sure passengers were paying attention to the attendants, and keeping the annoyance factor to their neighbors down to a minimally acceptable level. But now, oh rejoyce! We will be able to listen in on several very loud and completely inane phone conversations AT THE SAME TIME! Progress at it's worst, folks.

Dana Gabbard said...

Benson is absolutley right. On the Metrolink train last Friday I ended up overhearing a young woman on her cell admonish a friend, telling the friend that she was stupid and "haven't you learned anything from me" before launching into a lecture that you don't tell your boyfriend everything. She declared at one point "I'm sure he doesn't tell me everything". One wonders how long here current beau will stick around if this is indicative of her attitude toward relationships...

Wayne said...

110 years ago, Orville Wright made the first airplane flight in history. It lasted 12 seconds. It would've lasted 15 seconds but he was texting "I did it!"

BigTed said...

Now that we have Internet access on planes, I think we'll find that the real losers are best-selling novelists. Till now, the only thing that got me through ever-more-uncomfortable airline flights was dopey yet readable books by the likes of John Grisham and Dan Brown. Now that I can choose from TV, websites and Angry Birds, I may never need to pick up a mystery novel again. (Sorry, Ken!)

RyderDA said...

Doesn't make any difference. In coach, the seats are so close together you can't even open a laptop, and you nose will touch your iPad screen if you use it.

Anonymous said...

Back on Halloween I took a Delta flight from Orange County to Atlanta and then on to Nashville. We were told then that Delta was the first airline to stop insisting you had to power down your devices. If it's finally reaching the other airlines, their claim to be the first is actually true. Something new for Delta.

Cap'n Bob said...

Let's start a pool to see how soon the first fistfight breaks out between an idiot on a cell phone and someone who has lost his patience. I say 43 seconds.

Really, there have to be limits. I hate hearing loud cell phone yakkers in public, but in a confined space with a captive audience, it's insane. Aren't bawling babies enough?

zadig said...

In a post about not having to power down electronic devices (as if we ever did, instead of just putting them in standby), why are there so many rants about cell phone use?

Is reading comprehension so bad, or is someone talking on the phone really everyone's worst fear? "Public speaking in my underwear covered in spiders? No problem, just don't let anyone answer a call."

Really, why drag phone calls into this? Sanity from airlines is rare and should be celebrated.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I think some of the electronics caution was reasonably founded, at least for older planes. Back in 1976 or 1977, I flew to Scotland with a precursor of a Walkman - a monaural cassette recorder with one earpiece - and partway through the flight was accosted by the FA asking if it was a radio. No, I said, cassette recorder, and showed her. She asked me to turn it off because the pilot had some interference. I told her that it was impossible for a cassette recorder to interfere with the pilot's instruments, but complied to prove it to her. A little while later she came back and checked because there was still interference. Someone did have a radio, and I was allowed to resume what I was doing once that was located and turned off.

wg

RCP said...

Flying cross-country last week, I was too engrossed in my paper copy of "Must Kill TV" to notice much else going on around me...

The thought of being trapped amid cell phone conversations ("I have to yell above the engine to be heard! I know, can you believe it? Ha ha ha....oh guess what Cassie told me...") No. NO.

Mike Schryver said...

"zadig said...
In a post about not having to power down electronic devices (as if we ever did, instead of just putting them in standby), why are there so many rants about cell phone use?"

I think I can speak for most people in saying that while cell phones are still difficult to use on a plane, we fear that this is a slippery slope, where the last barrier to enabling boors to yammer at full volume into their phones will soon be removed.

DBA said...

The new rule re: electronics doesn't mean people can talk on the phone during the flights. It just means the devices can be on when they were previously asked to be off. They're still supposed to be in "airplane" mode last I checked, just like a week ago once you'd hit higher altitudes.

Blair Ivey said...

"In case of emergency I fully expect you soon will have to swipe your credit card before the oxygen masks drop down."

I covered this in my blog http://bkivey.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/up-and-away/

Dave Bittner said...

Here's an old news story documenting the events that started the ban on electronic devices -
http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19831123&id=zH4xAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UqUFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1130,611641

Tim W. said...

@zadig

Because as far as I know, a cell phone is an electronic device. I don't actually own one myself, so I could be wrong about that.

Johnny Walker said...

It's one thing for some idiot to refuse to turn off his cellphone during take-off and landing, it's another for there to be 500 of the damn things in a big metal cylinder, all vying for attention from communication towers. That's probably why they're still not allowed to be used once the doors are closed.

Still, it's nice to know I can keep reading my Kindle now. Hurrah!