July 16, 2010

Airlines vs. iPads

The exact times I want to read magazines on a tablet are the exact times I can’t.

What are the odds we can get the publishing industry to throw some blows at the airline industry (or FAA), finally nixing the prohibition on using electronic devices during taxi, takeoff, and ascent/descent?  I’m typing this on a plane where I’ve got a couple of paper magazines* stashed, ready for landing–this despite also carrying an iPad.  I bought the mags for reading when my laptop is verboten.  Wasting paper sucks, but at least this way I can, y’know, actually read the content during my downtime.

For bonus points, SFO’s anachronistic for-pay WiFi needs to die screaming. Paying eight bucks to access the net to then pay for tablet mags was a non-starter.

*A retronym in the vein of “acoustic guitars.”

Posted by John Nack at 5:47 PM on July 16, 2010

Comments

  • David — 6:46 PM on July 16, 2010

    I am less annoyed by the 15 min blackout periods than by the TSA not being able to make up its mind on whether an iPad is a laptop, needing to be removed for screening, or a portable electronic device not needing to.

  • Thom Hogan — 6:40 AM on July 17, 2010

    I’m with you on this one, but it’s a losing battle, I’m afraid.

    First, the flight attendants haven’t the foggiest notion of why the rules are the way they are, so they just do what all Corporals do and tell you what the orders are from on high and enforce them. Like the TSA, flight attendants are basically trained by regulation, not by logic.

    But the origin of the no electronics rule appears to be at the FAA and is an attempt at a safety-oriented issue. At the time it was made, pretty much all electronics were heavy, had wires (e.g. to headphones or mice), or other elements that the FAA felt might impede a quick exit from the plane if there was a problem on takeoff or landing. Buried under that was the mostly unknown notion of whether those electronics caused interference with plane electronics. Over time, that last bit has turned out to be not an issue, but the regulations haven’t really changed to reflect that, and the airlines still use that as the excuse to justify no electronics. We’ve had plenty of planes land on instrument only approaches with active radios in the cabin (mostly cellphones) to prove the interference issue a faux one.

    So you’re right, the restrictions make no sense. But the do make sense in one fashion: they’re easy to enforce. Imagine a flight attendant having to say to customer #1 that they can’t use their laptop when customer #2 is sitting next to them using an iTouch.

    But I’ll up your complaint: magazines and newspapers need to be cached on the iPad and I need verification that this has been done. The WSJ app does it right–I can get everything I need before I get on the plane and have to shut down communications. Zinio, NYT, and some others do not quite get it right. I’ve encountered situations with Zinio, for instance, where not all of the magazine made it over and I didn’t know that.

  • imajez — 12:41 PM on July 17, 2010

    Regarding the mobiles [cellphones] not interfering with other electronics. In my experience they can do just that. If I place my mobile near my laptop I get all sorts of odd beeping from laptop and a couple of days back I placed mobile on my amp and again got lots of nasty beeping. Avionics run all the through the plane, so you may be closer to flight electronics than you realise.

    I actually find not being able to do stuff like use computer/phone/read a handy thing as I can gaze into space or out of window. I’ve come up with a several script ideas that way whilst travelling. Staring into space is quite under rated and often I find myself too busy or distracted by newspapers/books to do just nothing.

    • John Nack — 1:20 PM on July 17, 2010

      Doesn’t it seem that if a cell phone or tablet can really compromise avionics, we’re all at severe risk regardless of this rule?

      • Phil Brown — 4:21 PM on July 17, 2010

        There really isn’t a risk in terms of avionics that anyone can show.

        There may be some sort of security risk, but since there’s no prohibition during level flight, that doesn’t make sense.

        Having anything with substantial mass not secured other than in level flight can be an issue. Aircraft can and do suffer very dramatic movements in any direction and this is particularly likely at lower altitudes (ie take off and landing). So there is a reasonable safety basis for not having a potential ballistic missile in the cabin at those times.

        For me, though, so long as talking on a mobile (cell) phone is never permitted, I’ll be happy. I could not stand being stuck on an aircraft with people screaming into their phones (as they always seem to do).

      • imajez — 5:42 PM on July 18, 2010

        I can only say how I’ve noticed annoying interference from various phones on my own electronic kit. Avionics should be better shielded, but some designs may predate mobile phone usage and not take it into account.

        I’m also with Phil, people shouting into phones on public transport is very annoying, so hopefully it will never be allowed on planes. We thankfully have quiet coaches on trains in UK, where phones and ‘personal’ stereos are not allowed.

  • daragh — 6:46 AM on July 18, 2010

    I think the point about a blanket “no electronics” rule during takeoff and landing isn’t really about the security theatre of preventing interference with the avionics, it’s about keeping people alert during the two most dangerous parts of the flight.

    I’m fairly sure there have been studies done showing that the casualty rate for takeoff/landing difficulties are far lower when the passengers are informed and alert so it probably makes sense to keep people from using electronics (particularly audio equipment) during the safety demonstration and the key parts of takeoff & landing.

    Obviously, reading on an iPad isn’t more distracting than reading using a dead tree, but it’s probably easier to enforce a blanket ban on electronics as opposed to trying to do it on a case-by-case basis and to rely on a nebulous story of “interference with the plane” to justify it.

  • Dan — 6:33 AM on July 20, 2010

    As a pilot (single engine, non-commerical – but a pilot none the less), I’ll share some info with you. There are two reasons you aren’t allowed to use electronics during takeoff and landing.

    1) If there is an incident during takeoff and landing, you must be able to react quickly. You can’t be absorbed in your music. You shouldn’t really be absorbed in your book either, but you’re more likely to toss aside a $6 paperback than a $500 iPad (then again, it’s your life on the line – ditch the stupid thing). In the air, you have time to put everything away if there’s an emergency that anything can be done about.

    2) During the takeoff and landing phases of the flight, pilots are in constant contact with air traffic control. Of course, they are in contact during the entire flight, but during these 2 phases, the instructions come very quickly, and you must not only listen to your own instructions, but those of other aircraft. This is less critical when cruising due to increased spacing between aircraft and a less complicated flight path.

    Are the radios shielded against such interference? Sure. Do mechanical systems function as intended 100% of the time, due to mechanical failure or improper installation? Of course not.

  • Mike — 11:23 AM on July 20, 2010

    Also a single engine private pilot.
    The funny thing is how many pilots bring devices like ipads and portable GPSs into the cockpit of their own aircraft to assist in their flight. And I bet a good portion of us have forgotten to switch phones off more than once.

  • Michael Long — 1:35 PM on July 20, 2010

    All of the interference arguments are theoretical BS. I know that all that I do on a plane is mute the phone, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who does so. Same for iPods and computers (sleep or pause, not off).

    Add in the people who forget or don’t bother, people (who I’ve seen) who keep listening to their tunes, phones that aren’t changed to airplane mode, Bluetooth headsets, WiFi devices, and so on.

    Add them all up, and single airplane on every single flight is already flying with live, radiating devices.

    And they’re not crashing.

  • Bill — 9:47 AM on July 22, 2010

    Starting Sept. 1, you’ll get your free WiFi at SFO: http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_15318979

    –Bill

  • David Blatner — 11:14 AM on July 27, 2010

    While there is potential for radio interference, it’s extremely small and has never been proved. The idea that electronics are prohibited because they make people less alert is crazy; if that were the reason, the flight attendants would be waking everyone up.

    Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to retract a rule once it’s set by the TSA or airlines. Logic and reasoning do not play a role. Our best bet for electronic devices is if someone is seriously injured during a flight because they were not allowed to use their ipad. Then the subsequent uproar would force Those Who Must Justify Their Jobs to allow what should have been allowed all along.

    (Some of you know me from my Photoshop or InDesign books, but you may not know that I wrote a book about flying from the passengers’ point of view, called The Flying Book. The research, including flying in the cockpit of several flights, was fascinating!)

  • Phil Brown — 5:24 PM on July 29, 2010

    Related news, John, from downunder:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/07/30/2968612.htm

    I really, really hope we never allow people to use voice on aircraft.

    • Cas Dobbin — 10:31 AM on November 22, 2010

      I just wated to say that I agree with your comments on the use of voice on aircraft. In my experience I have found the altitude at which planes are travelling at as well as the speed at which they move prevents cellular phones from picking up a useable signal. I’ve left my phone on (unknowingly) several times while flying and when I picked it up to shut it off, I have never had a signal. The only exception would be at takeoff and landing where aircraft are at a much closer proximity to cell towers.

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