"Ladies and gentleman, we'll be landing soon. All electronic devices must now be powered off." That familiar, groan-inducing announcement is heard on just about every commercial flight. But is it necessary? Can a laptop really screw up a jumbo jet's communication system during takeoff and landing? As the holiday travel season approaches, commentators are asking once again: Is it time to change the rule?
This is a pointless rule: "If electronic gadgets could bring down an airplane," says Nick Bilton in The New York Times, "you can be sure that the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration… wouldn't allow passengers to board a plane with an iPad or Kindle, for fear that they would be used by terrorists." The truth is, there's no evidence that these devices are dangerous. When was the last time you heard about a plane crash caused by an iPod? It's time to rethink this policy.
"Disruptions: Fliers must turn off devices, but it's not clear why"
And it won't help us deal with emergencies: The only legitimate rationale for forcing passengers to power down gadgets, says James Fallows in The Atlantic, is that the airline cabin crew might need to get everyone's full attention immediately in the event of an emergency. But I think people would pay attention in the event of a "real emergency," regardless of whether their iPads were on. "The real distraction is the series of obviously phony, 'security theater' warnings we have to pretend to take seriously."
"'All electronic devices must now be powered off' — But why?"
Actually, gadgets could pose a real threat: It's "simplistic" and wrong to assume that it's safe to use gadgets on planes just because iPods haven't triggered crashes to date, says Christine Negroni at SeattlePI.com. There was a "spectacular mid-air collision" in 1960 between two planes that were off course because of radio interference. Electromagnetic interference has been a contributing factor in several accidents. And there have been multiple reports of pilots having problems in the cockpit thanks to a passenger's use of a gadget. Better safe than sorry.
"Blowing a circuit over everybody's expertise"