The Use of Approved Electronic Devices Is Now Permitted


Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the end of its annoying, frequently flouted, and seemingly arbitrary ban on the use of portable electronic devices by airplane passengers at altitudes below 10,000 feet. It says travelers should be free to play games, listen to music, watch movies, and read ebooks throughout flights by the end of the year. First each airline has to certify that the electromagnetic energy generated by smartphones, MP3 players, and iPads does not interfere with its planes' "highly sensitive communications, navigation, flight control and electronic equipment." This is the same approach that European regulators have taken for years. Notably, the FAA does not anticipate that any airlines will be unable to show that it's safe for passengers to use electronic devices at any altitude. 

Which makes you wonder: Was there any real basis for this concern about interference to begin with? In a 2012 survey of people who had flown in the previous year, 40 percent admitted that they had left their electronic devices on throughout the flight, while 7 percent said they had not even bothered to put their phones in airplane mode. The FAA says "there are reports of suspected interference to communication and navigations systems in both the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System and the FAA's Service Difficulty Reporting system." But even though many passengers have routinely disobeyed the restrictions on electronic devices for many years, as far as I can tell no one has ever cited an actual mishap related to such infractions.

The ban on using phones for voice communication remains in place, but there does not seem to be a safety rationale for that rule either. "Cell phones differ from most PEDs [portable electronic devices] in that they are designed to send out signals strong enough to be received at great distances," the FAA says. But while passengers will still officially be expected to turn off the wireless functions of their devices (except for Bluetooth), FAA Administrator Michael Huerta concedes "there's no safety problem if they're not," although he warns that "you're going to arrive at your destination with a dead battery" because your phone will keep looking unsuccessfully for a signal.

In fact, the rule requiring de-activation of wireless capabilities was imposed by the Federal Communications Commission, not the FAA. The FCC says "the ban was put in place because of potential interference to wireless networks on the ground." The FCC has considered lifting the ban but concluded in 2007 that "the technical information provided by interested parties in response to the proposal was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground." The FAA says its PED Aviation Rulemaking Committee "did recommend that the FAA consult with the [FCC] to review its current rules."


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  1. THANK YOU for using “flouted” instead of “flaunted”

  2. The ban on using phones for voice communication remains in place

    I don’t see why the FAA needs to be involved in this, but I would never, ever fly on any airline that allowed cell phone calls in flight. Can you imagine sitting next to some diarrhea-mouthed asshole for an 11-hour flight?

    1. Pretend he’s talking to you.
      Nod along in agreement, shake your head in disagreement.
      Answer back.

    2. I honestly never understand this objection to allowing voice calls in-flight. How is hearing half a conversation worse than hearing the whole thing? Let me know when they ban talking above a whisper. For people of all ages.

      1. See, that’s bad enough (talking in general, I mean). To me, 1/2 a conversation where every sentence is repeated at least twice (“I’m on the plane. I’m on the plane. I said, I’m on the plane. NO, I’M ON. THE. PLANE!”) is worse, though.

        How about we start an airline where there’s no children and no talking allowed, on the phone or in person? I would fly that bitch every time.

        1. That’s the airline I’ve been waiting my whole adult life to fly.

          1. USAF C-130

            Too noisy to sustain conversation – definitely no children.

            1. But are there hot towels and in-flight gaming?

              1. Are the lavs spacious enough for…

      2. I’m pretty sure hearing half your conversation about twerking would be just as awful as hearing your whole conversation about twerking. Whether on a plane or not.

        1. Does that go for the half of the conversation you’re having with yourself?

          1. The voices in my head are telling me to commandeer the plane. But I’m resisting them! What did your dog just say to me? That little bastard! How dare he insult my imaginary girlfriend!

            1. The voices in your head are lying to you.

    3. Noise cancelling headphones are awesome.

      1. I need some o’ those for my trip to UT.

      2. Any brand and model recommendations?

        1. I don’t know enough to say. My stepson has some Beats by Dre, and while they sound awesome, it only took him a month to ruin the cord. That’s pretty sad. A two hundred dollar set of headphones and they can’t figure out how to make the cord last for more than a month?

          1. I didn’t buy them. His father did. No fucking way would I give two hundred dollar electronics to a twelve year old. That’s just dumb.

        2. I have the Shure SE215’s and they are pretty awesome. My cow-orkers have to wave in my peripheral vision in order to start a conversation with me.

          1. Also, the Shure’s are a mere centebuck at Amazon.

        3. I’ve been very happy with my Sennheiser PXC300s for the last couple of years.

          1. I had those a few years ago – I agree they were great.

          1. Ugh I tried something similar for awhile – they hurt my ears after more than 10 minutes or so.

            1. I only use them on planes, but I’ve not had any problems beyond sweaty ear canals (and they all go that.)

              I never spend much on earbuds as is, I lose or destroy them at an incredible rates. Been happy with these and the flat cords don’t tangle too badly.

              1. You sad, sad people who can’t just tune out everything while reading. Except squalling babies. No one can tune that shit out. Anyone who creates an airline that specifically bans babies would get my business in a heartbeat. Throw in banning anyone under 12 and I’m even more in. Also, ban fat people and NutraSweet, and it’s a total win.

                1. I’m going to have earplugs in anyway, so I might as well listen to music. My fucked up ear goes crazy when I fly.

                2. I thought NutraSweet is going by Splenda now. Think Sugar, Say Splenda.

                3. They would have all their assets seized for violating anti-discrimination laws.

          2. That looks painful.

            1. Like my high school girlfriend told me: “You don’t have to push it all the way in.”

              1. How would she have known?

                1. Not to brag, but I have a pretty big fist.

        4. Depends on how much you want to spend – like a lot of audio equipment, there is basically no upper limit.

          I like mine – JVC, around $100. They don’t completely engulf your ears, which I prefer, and therefore you can hear some outside sound but I wear them in the subway every day without any bother.

        5. Combo of price and quality is always nice I can’t see spending more than $100. I’m not much of an audiophile.

          1. Seriously, you won’t be disappointed with the Shure’s. You can even disconnect the earbuds from the cord if you just want to replace the cord.

          2. IMHO $100 is about right, then. I would avoid the cheap-o 40 buck ones.

            Or try the inside-the-ear ones that SF mentioned. They do absolutely work, I just couldn’t stand the feel of them – that might just be me.

  3. Anyway, don’t all us real libertarians have private jets?
    Commercial air travel is for the little people.

    1. You ain’t kidding. Those coach rows keep getting smaller. Jetblue was pleasant though. Some United and Delta feel like a goddamned cattle cart

      1. I had a good experience with Virgin.

      2. Virgin America is the answer. They are leaders in awesomeness.

      3. United is crap. I’m never flying United to Europe ever again.

        1. If I am flying to Europe, I try to take Air France. They give you all the wine and cheese you want, the food is actually not bad, and they’re just polite and excellent all around. Expensive, but worth it.

          1. How much does a return fare cost? Or more specifically how much would we have to pay them not to fly you back?

            1. One BILLION dollars.

              (puts pinky in corner of mouth)

          2. But do they have a “water sommelier“?

          3. Admittedly, AirFrance runs on the ClubMed, French welfare state model, wherein everyone subsidizes wino, cheese-hoarders like Epi and it’s a popular model for non-libertarians.
            I am booked with them to go from London to Antananarivo soon. I hope they worked out the Piton tube problem.

            1. If they’re using pitons on airplanes, no wonder 447 crashed!

              1. Exactly. Those damn French don’t enunciate those post-penultimate consonants enough or at all and the result: pitot, piton, pistol…catastrophe!

          4. Seconded. The AF flight from Dulles to DeGaulle was great. CDG is a bear of an airport to make a connection in, though.

      4. Delta is the minimum acceptable service level. United’s business model is, I am convinced, based entirely on malice.

        KAL is quite nice. Worth flying to Korea just for the experience.

        1. United’s business model is market share, market share, market share, because that worked sooo well for them post 9/11.

  4. I’ve heard interference over the intercom (pilot to pilot) when the other guy forgot to turn off his phone. Maybe it has to due with the proximity of the radios but it happens

    1. “Hey Mike, you see the jugs on the girl in row 4?”

      1. Serious, do you like movies about gladiators?

        1. Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

        2. No..but seeing a grown man naked doesn’t bother me as long as there’s no eye contact.

  5. LAX terminal shooting.
    I wonder if the shooter missed the no guns allowed sign?

    1. Maybe he misunderstood what “terminal” was supposed to mean.

  6. When will the use of alt-text inflight be approved?

  7. lol, as I pilot I can say its ABOUT TIME! No cellular devices interfere with flight systems.

    1. Damn anonbot has gotten good.

  8. If these devices were truly dangerous al-Qaeda and every copycat organization would have brought down hundreds of planes by now. ‘Nuff said.

  9. I’ve been a pilot for a while…

    My understanding is that back in the analog cell phone days a phone in the air would try to connect to a hundred cell towers. I knew someone who got a nasty-gram from his cell provider when he deliberately used his phone in the air once.

    More recently – when the company I worked for had us all using AT&T Blackberries – the transmissions from a phone could produce an audible buzz in speakers. When I left mine on the buzz in the headphones could be pretty loud and I’d rush to turn it off quickly; a passenger’s phone could make my headphones buzz faintly. It was annoying but a passenger’s phone would never create enough interference that I couldn’t understand ATC.

    I never once suspected anyone’s electronics were interfering with the plane’s instruments. I’d always heard the ban was strongly supported by superstitious flight attendants’ unions, (along with the ban on guns in airline cockpits).

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