Attention fliers: You might be able to read your Kindle during takeoff soon
But your smartphone will still have to remain in the off position
Kindle readers may soon be liberated during takeoff and landing. Or you could just bring an old-fashioned paper book...
Kindle readers may soon be liberated during takeoff and landing. Or you could just bring an old-fashioned paper book... CC BY: bradleygee

Before 2013 is over, the Federal Aviation Administration may loosen restrictions and finally allow airline passengers to keep their reading devices turned on throughout the entirety of a flight. According to Nick Bilton at The New York Times, "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 new regulations, however, "would not include cellphones" or similar communication devices, which would still have to be switched off.

Over the past few years, the FAA has been under mounting pressure to either: (1) Allow passengers more electronic freedom onboard aircraft, or (2) Provide solid scientific evidence why they can't. Critics point out that pilots now employ iPads in the cockpit for navigation purposes (among other things). Why should passengers coughing up hundreds of dollars to travel be excluded?

The thinking goes that all electronic devices, from iPods to electric razors, emit electromagnetic waves that may interfere with an aircraft's radios, GPS navigation systems, and collision-avoidance devices. The evidence, however, is mostly theoretical. But, as one Boeing engineer points out, even if there's just a tiny chance that electrical interference might cause a freak accident, why put passenger lives at risk?

To its credit, the FAA appears to be trying to reach a definitive conclusion, albeit not as quickly as some critics would like. An FAA-organized working group — which includes Amazon, the Consumer Electronics Association, and Boeing, among others — plans to present findings by July's end on whether electronic devices truly present a danger.

Some argue that the rumored changes may not go far enough, and the wonky distinction between e-readers, phones, and tablets may quickly become outdated. "The huge-phone/small-tablet markets are converging as we speak," says technology writer Marco Arment at his blog. "Are 5-inch 'phablets' considered phones or reading devices?"

Is the Kindle Fire a reading device since it's named "Kindle", even though it can do a lot more? Are iPads reading devices? How about an iPad Mini with an LTE radio? I assume iPhones would be prohibited as "cellphones", but what about iPod Touches?

This silly distinction will only cause problems. Why attempt to confusingly and ineffectively draw that line? []

Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.


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