My Comments to the FAA on Using Electronics During Flight

Posted by jkahn on August 28, 2012 · 4 mins read

As a fairly frequent traveler, not being able to use electronics during takeoff and landing is somewhat frusturating, but at the same time I understand the need for passengers to be more cognizant of their surroundings and crew instructions during these times. That said, there seems to be a reasonable compromise available when you consider the activities currently allowed by airlines. Before I proceed, I should note that I side with the commentary/research found in the New York Times and other press that indicates that small, consumer electronics (that do not transmit wireless signals) will not impact sensors as the impact is not additive across devices.

Most airline passengers today partake in three primary activities during takeoff/landing in my view: (1) reading a book/newspaper/magazine, (2) listening to in-cabin radio, or (3) sleep/rest. Considering the first two activities in turn:

Reading – many passengers today likely own and use an eReader device, such as a Nook or Kindle, as their primary reading device. In my opinion, these eReader devices should be allowed at any time during a flight. The e-ink technology used in these devices emits very little interference and the activity itself is no different than reading more traditional material so attention will not be diverted any differently.

Listening to in-cabin radio – if we take the argument that listening to music is distracting to passengers, I cannot understand how airlines such as United can offer this type of service; however, with the prevalence of heavy noise-cancelling headphones (e.g. Bose), I could see that this is a potential issue. My recommendation would be to take the tact I saw on a recent Air Canada flight – only allow earbud style headphones during takeoff and landing. These cancel less noise and would likely still allow passengers to hear important announcements.

The fine line in my recommendation is in the use of tablet devices that cross the line between movie player, computer, and eReader, such as the iPad, Kindle Fire, and Nexus 7. Only allowing some eReaders or limiting how this type of device is to be used would be hard to police/control; however, some airlines (mostly international) do allow use of seatback entertainment systems soon after initial takeoff through landing. My recommendation would be to ease restrictions as long as these devices: (1) are used after initial takeoff (perhaps 5 minutes after), (2) with earbud style headphones until given all clear, and (3) without the use of tray tables.

Laptop computers, on the other hand, typically are bulkier and often require the use of a tray table. My recommendation is to only allow this type of device as per current regulations.

This ended up being much longer than necessary, so to review:

  1. Allow “simple” eReader devices (e.g. Kindle, Nook) at any time during flight.
  2. Allow earbud-style headphones at any time; over-the-ear headphone allowed per current regulations.
  3. Tablets / phones (in airplane mode) allowed five minutes after takeoff through landing with earbud headphones, without a tray.
  4. Laptop computers per current regulations.

Clearly this is somewhat more complicated than the current scheme; however, I believe that with the right messaging to passengers and some self-policing, allowing limited usage of low risk devices would make everyone’s flying experience much better.

Thank you for reading this lengthy commentary.