Electronics on Airplanes: Safe or Not?

On a recent airplane flight from Providence, Rhode Island, to Atlanta, Georgia, my wife and I, following the directions of the flight attendant at takeoff, turned off our cell phones and electronic devices. I recalled the recent incident on an American Airline flight that involved the actor Alec Baldwin. I do not know all of the facts, nor do I care, but Mr. Baldwin was removed from the flight for allegedly failing to turn off his Apple iPad while playing the online game Words with Friends. His removal from the plane delayed the flight, which I am sure delighted the passengers, especially those who had to catch connecting flights — no matter who was at fault.

However, I also found it surprising that while Mr. Baldwin was still getting attention on segments of Saturday Night Live, the Wednesday, December 14, 2011 edition of NBC Nightly News, anchored by Brian Williams, reported that American Airlines had received FAA approval for pilots to use Apple iPads in the cockpit. The report stated that pilots will be allowed to use the Apple iPads to replace some 45 pounds of flight manuals and charts that they are currently required to carry. The report also indicated that using the Apple iPad would allow these diverse manuals and charts to receive their much needed updates more efficiently than is currently possible, thus providing the plane’s passengers and crew an added measure of safety.

In researching the subject further, it appears that, according to the Seattle PI, not only the American Airlines pilots, but also Alaskan Airlines pilots will be testing the Apple iPad on their flights. My purpose in reporting these FAA approvals is not to regurgitate these events, but to look at these events and how they will affect the people who frequently fly on airlines. I’d also like to share my personal opinion on how it will affect the safety of all of us who rely on pilots to keep us safe in our travels.

So, while pilots may be allowed to test out electronic devices in the cockpit, it is very apparent that the FAA has chosen to err on the side of caution when it comes to passengers doing the same. That means, for now, it is still prohibiting the use of all electronic devices during take off or landing. Therefore, since it remains an FAA requirement, the pilots, first officers, and flight attendants are required to enforce the rule in the same manner that they must enforce the ban on smoking. This means that no one is exempt, and when this involves a celebrity or anyone else of newsworthy status, I don’t envy the members of the cabin crew and their position that requires them to act as airplane police.

http://i0.wp.com/www.lockergnome.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/electronics-on-airplanes.gif?w=200This morning, I spoke with a good friend of mine who is a pilot for a major airline (I promised him anonymity so he could speak freely). He concurred with my conclusion that enforcing these rules was a “pain,” but he also stated that it is a rare occurrence when passengers do not comply and that airline personnel actually have to have someone removed from a flight. He also agreed that the crew has no option but to enforce the rules to the best of its abilities and its members are subject to disciplinary actions if they fail to comply. The airlines are fully aware that the company is subject to a fine if the crew fails to enforce any FAA rule or requirement.

Out of curiosity, I then asked him if the Apple iPads that would be in the cockpit could be used to play Angry Birds, Words with Friends, or to update Facebook pages, send email, and/or surf the Web? He stated that he had heard that the devices would be ‘locked down’ and only official manuals, charts, and so forth could be accessed. Though the airline he works for has not switched, as of yet, to the Apple iPads, he was looking forward to the day in which they could leave the flight bag at the airport and not have to lug what he called “a bag full of bricks” through the terminal.

In my opinion, the FAA needs to reevaluate all electronic devices to determine the exact ones that interfere with flight safety and those devices that could be used harmlessly during take-off and landing. By doing this, it could keep passengers from looking at the restrictions with a jaundiced eye and acknowledging the advantages for the pilot and first officer using Apple iPads in the cockpit. One could then conclude that if the use of an Apple iPad so near to the controls has been deemed safe, then using the device anywhere on the plane would be safe, as well.

Which brings me back to the airplane flight I took to Atlanta. As we were taxiing down the runway getting ready for take off, it was disturbing to see one passenger still checking his email on his cell phone. This passenger finally turned off the device just seconds before we actually took to the air, but I felt that his failure to comply with the flight attendant’s instructions was not only rude, but could have endangered the safety of all of those aboard.

If you disagree with my assessment, please feel free to seek alternative means of transportation and don’t fly with me or my family. Not using our electronic devices for 30 minutes or so is not going to kill any of us. Using your electronic device while taking off or landing could kill all of us. Be safe.

Comments welcome.

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I have been writing for Lockergnome for eight years.