It's one of the more annoying aspects of flying: Anytime the cabin doors close and the plane prepares for takeoff, all those texting sessions, Kindle reads, and Words With Friend games must be put on hold until the captain gives the go ahead to use "electronic devices" 10,000 feet in the air later. Flight attendants don't like the rule anymore than we do; it seems there's always one entitled flyer who sanctimoniously refuses to have his browsing habits stifled by what he sees as an archaic rule.
Luckily, a change could finally be on the horizon, at least if the Federal Communications Commission gets its way.
Last Thursday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowsi sent a letter to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acting administrator Michael Huerta, urging the FAA to "enable greater use of tablets, e-readers, and other portable devices" during flights upon further review, according to The Hill. Writes Genachowski:
This review comes at a time of tremendous innovation, as mobile devices are increasingly interwoven in our daily lives. They empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family, and they enable both large and small businesses to be more productive and efficient, helping drive economic growth and boost U.S. competitiveness.
Many see the proposed about-face as a long time coming. In January 2011, one reader, echoing a common view, told CNN that the rule was "absurd" since the supposed dangers surrounding the use of personal devices are shrouded in mystery. Given the lack of a clear and demonstrable rationale, the rule can seem merely perverse. It's really a backwards way of doing things, says Matt Peckham at TIME. "Off go the smartphones, tablets, portable music players, and handheld game devices, out come the magazines, newspapers, and nap-time pillows," he says. "It's like watching the future happen in reverse."
To its credit, the FAA considered lifting its ban on in-flight cell phone use in 2004, but soon abandoned the idea, claiming that further review "was insufficient" to determine if active cell phones interfered with wireless networks on the ground during takeoff and landing.
If 2012 is anything like last year, upwards of 91 million Americans will be traveling during the jam-packed period between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 — the 11 busiest travel days of the year. Even the nicest person can get testy when she's forced to navigate the chaos of a holiday-season airport or crammed into a metal hull traveling 600 mph in the air. Perhaps by next year she'll have one less thing to complain about.