Why Must Fliers Turn Off Electronic Devices on Flights?

Nick Bilton has a post in today’s New York Times rationalizing how airline rules that are decades old persist on flights without evidence that they should be enforced. In particular: why must you be required to turn off your iPhone or Kindle during take-off and landing?

According to the F.A.A., 712 million passengers flew within theUnited States in 2010. Let’s assume that just 1 percent of those passengers — about two people perBoeing 737, a conservative number — left a cellphone, e-reader or laptop turned on during takeoff or landing. That would mean seven million people on 11 million flights endangered the lives of their fellow passengers.

Yet, in 2010, no crashes were attributed to people using technology on a plane. None were in 2009. Or 2008, 2007 and so on. You get the point.

Surely if electronic gadgets could bring down an airplane, you can be sure that the Department of Homeland Securityand the Transportation Security Administration, which has a consuming fear of 3.5 ounces of hand lotion and gel shoe inserts, wouldn’t allow passengers to board a plane with aniPad or Kindle, for fear that they would be used by terrorists.


Les Dorr, a spokesman for the F.A.A., said the agency would rather err on the side of caution when it comes to digital devices on planes.

He cited a 2006 study by the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, a nonprofit group that tests and reports on technical travel and communications issues. The group was asked by the F.A.A. to test the effects of cellphones, Wi-Fi and portable electronic devices on planes.

Its finding? “Insufficient information to support changing the policies,” Mr. Dorr said. “There was no evidence saying these devices can’t interfere with a plane, and there was no evidence saying that they can.”

Despite the evidence, this practice of turning off electronics continues. The reasoning is unclear. But this smart comment in the post makes sense:

From what I understand, a big reason that people are still asked to turn off devices is because the biggest change of an emergency situation is during take-off and landing. Forcing people turn off their devices during this time is supposed to keep everyone more alert and paying better attention if something were to happen.

And another comment provides food for thought:

I don’t want to be on the one flight that proves they do interfere when it crashes. 

For now, I am happy to oblige in turning off my electronics during take-off and landing, even if my neighbor doesn’t.

What do you think? Is the precaution to turn off electronic devices unnecessary?