Tablets During Take-off?

When it comes to passenger discontent over the use of mobile devices on aircraft, perhaps The West Wing’s Toby Zeigler said it best:  “We’re flying in a Lockheed Eagle Series L-1011. Came off the line twenty months ago. Carries a Sim-5 transponder tracking system, and you’re telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?”

Like most pithy, anecdotal complaints, this one seems legitimate to those of us who use our tablets to read or play games in-flight.  Well-loved celebrities like George Takei take up the standard, others note the double standard that allows pilots to use iPads as flight manuals, and still others note that there’s almost zero likelihood that all the passengers on every flight actually turn off their electronic devices.  So what’s going on?

The cynical answer is that airline companies want to force us to read SkyMall®, but the simpler (and correct) answer is that the FAA is demonstrating an overabundance of caution, and is willing, at least for the moment, to inconvenience passengers on the off-chance, however slight, that one device on one flight might actually down an aircraft.  Were that ever to happen, not only would the media backlash blame the FAA for giving in to self-entitled passengers who can’t go twenty minutes without their tech, but far more tragically, lives would be lost.  The FAA is quite reasonably going to ensure that such an outcome is impossible before making sure kids have access to TapFish.

Last week, however, another federal agency stepped in to voice its opinion: the FCC recommended that the use of electronic devices be allowed during take-off and landing.  The FAA is still conducting tests (which takes time, as every device has to be tested individually), but it’s likely they’ll change the policy sooner or later.  And once the safety issues are addressed, then everyone, especially airlines, will breathe a sigh of relief.  After all, a decade or so ago, we all wanted to get on the planes that had individual monitors for every seat, whereas now the luxury standard is whether or not the aircraft has Wifi.

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