Culture

F.A.A. May Allow Use of Electronics On Flights Soon

Culture

F.A.A. May Allow Use of Electronics On Flights Soon

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Flying is one of the most undignified, humiliating experiences that a person can live through (adjusted for privilege inflation). Passengers are stripped of their autonomy, subjected to invasive searches, assumed prima facie to be criminals, and herded into a torture chamber of unimaginable discomforts and strangers’ farts, at every turn; and we pay handsomely for the opportunity. All of which would be bearable if only we could sit down, bury our heads in our laptops or tablets, fire up a few episodes of Breaking Bad, and make the world go away. We can’t do that, of course, because, as everyone knows, iTunes and Netflix have a weird plane-exploding algorithm written into their coding that necessitates powering down electronic devices during takeoff and landing. That may change by next year, it seems, according to a story in the New York Times.

According to people who work with an industry working group that the Federal Aviation Administration set up last year to study the use of portable electronics on planes, the agency hopes to announce by the end of this year that it will relax the rules for reading devices during takeoff and landing. The change would not include cellphones.

One member of the group and an official of the F.A.A., both of whom asked for anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about internal discussions, said the agency was under tremendous pressure to let people use reading devices on planes, or to provide solid scientific evidence why they cannot.

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.

Yes, of course. All those people shaving during takeoff and recording it to listen to later (wtf?) Otherwise, all good points.

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri is one lawmaker who has her priorities in order.

In a phone interview, Ms. McCaskill said she had grown frustrated with the F.A.A.’s stance on devices after she learned that the agency now allows iPads as flight manuals in the cockpit and has subsequently given out devices to some flight attendants with information on flight procedures.

“So it’s O.K. to have iPads in the cockpit; it’s O.K. for flight attendants — and they are not in a panic — yet it’s not O.K. for the traveling public,” she said. “A flying copy of ‘War and Peace’ is more dangerous than a Kindle.”

Again, I see the point here, but they also let the pilots operate, you know, the plane itself, and that doesn’t mean the rest of us back here in steerage should get a crack at the controls. Also, no one is reading “War and Peace” on airplanes, unless that’s a new section in US Weekly I haven’t heard of yet.

“The idea that in-flight use of electronic devices for things like reading a book poses a threat to the safety of airline passengers is baseless and outdated,” McCaskill said.

So there’s one of the major headaches of flying taken care of. Now if we could just get a task force to look into the pervasive “people thinking I want to talk the entire flight because I engaged in the basic minimum of human decency communication levels when I sat down” problem, I’ll feel a lot better about my next trip.