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FAA to Expand In-flight Electronic Device Use

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When the actual White House blog calls out a fictional character — White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler of “The West Wing” TV show — on Twitter to commemorate a change in FAA policy, it’s worth paying attention. The tweet:

“You’re welcome, @Toby_Ziegler.” http://go.wh.gov/vH4pDd #GadgetsFly

And the reference? A quote from the 1999 TV show, when Toby Ziegler responds sarcastically to being asked to turn off his cell phone on a plane:

We’re flying in a Lockheed Eagle series L1011. It came off the line 20 months ago. It carries a Sim-5 Transponder tracking system. Are you telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?

And the news release that prompted this media geekery? The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has announced that it is following the advice of the 28-member panel that recommended changes in policy regarding the use of electronics in flight (see “FAA Panel Recommends Easing Restrictions on Electronics in Flight,” 3 October 2013), something we started tracking last year with pilot Steve McCabe’s article, “Why Do Airlines Require Us to Turn Off Our Gadgets?” (5 October 2012).

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said that “the FAA has determined that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight, and is immediately providing the airlines with implementation guidance.”

Actual implementation will vary by airline due to differences in the specific airplanes involved, but the FAA expects that many carriers will verify that their planes can tolerate radio interface from personal electronic devices and allow their use — in airplane mode! — from gate to gate by the end of 2013.

There are a few additional caveats besides the need to put devices in airplane mode. Most important, be sure to comply with existing rules for now — this rule change takes effect only once planes have been certified. As always, follow the directions of the flight crew — especially if they’re giving them in full song and dance. Even after the new rules come into effect, the pilot may require that all electronics be turned off during low-visibility landings. And while it will be acceptable to hold tablets and smaller devices during takeoff and landing, larger electronic devices like laptops will still need to be stowed during that time, to avoid interfering with emergency evacuations.

Lastly, as noted previously, these forthcoming changes do not in any way affect the ban on use of mobile phones in flight. Those rules come from the Federal Communications Commission, not the FAA, and are aimed at preventing network confusion when in-flight phones light up multiple cell towers on the ground (see “Peering Inside a Mobile Phone Network,” 6 October 2008).

(As an aside, I clearly have too much real work to do, such that I hadn’t realized that many of the West Wing characters have chatty fan-run Twitter accounts that stay, well, in character. Must not follow…)

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Comments about FAA to Expand In-flight Electronic Device Use

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-10-31 17:13
And, as a reader pointed out, there are other fabulous safety videos, many done by Air New Zealand, including

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBlRbrB_Gnc
Chris Jennings  2013-11-02 23:48
I'm betting the real Alec Baldwin will appreciate this, too. Though he might be one of those people who refuses to wait until the airline implements the new FAA recommendation. Angry Birds anyone?
I'm not at all a fan of this type of "safety video". Imagine a person like myself who flies several times a week and has to listen to this hyperactive oversexed video every single time. This is YouTube bait and its surely a nice marketing stunt, but subjecting your passengers (and even worse your cabin staff) to this every single departure is just outright disrespectful.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-11-05 08:39
Is it any more disrespectful than playing the same deadly dull safety film over and over again? :-) I have to assume that if you fly that often, you ignore them anyway, having memorized all the safety instructions long ago.

It seems to me that the question, which could be tested, is what sort of video conveys the necessary information in such a way that viewers remember it best. A properly done study on that topic would also query people on how often they fly, since it might be that it makes no difference at all after a certain level of familiarity with airplanes.
How can a sensible person ignore something like that?

We're talking about an FAA mandated safety briefing. And considering the 'safety' nature, this briefing should be serious, factual, and brief.

VA's clowning around on the other hand is entirely uncalled for as it simply reinforces the false notion that it's all just unnecessary drivel anyway.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-11-07 15:26
I'm merely saying that the safety videos and instructions are so rote that if you hear them repeatedly, you'll just have them memorized, and will automatically look for the exit nearest your seat. In times when I've been flying more frequently, I'd just do all the necessary stuff on my own upon boarding and would tune out the same old instructions. Had they been different or interesting, I would paid more attention (there was this one flight attendant on an Alaska Air flight to San Francisco who was clearly practicing for a standup comedy gig - he was hilarious and had everyone's full attention).
It's nice to know that electronic interference isn't a worry. But that's only one small concern. The larger and more important concern is the human part of the equation. The same obliviots who text while driving will also be the ones who are busy trying to complete a last text message or send selfies about the crashing plane while everyone else is trying to get past them and make it to the exits after the plane has crash-landed and the idjits who are trying to carry their laptop shoulder bag with them out the window exit while the plane burns. The reason we're supposed to stow things and put our seats upright during takeoff and landing is not electronic interference: it's so that we pay attention to the aircrew and can leave the plane in a hurry if we need to. The FAA blew this call by focusing on the tech instead of its users.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2013-11-05 08:47
I can't imagine how you'd test such a hypothesis, one way or another. But the new regulations are very clear about how the cabin crew can order everyone to turn everything off in low-visibility landings and emergency situations.

Perhaps if such orders come only infrequently, rather than at every takeoff and landing, people will actually be more likely to follow along. Every parent knows you get the best compliance with what matters if you don't give constant direction about things that don't matter.
did anyone even bother to obey these rules anyway? I know I sure as hell didn't. They were obviously pointless from the get-go.