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Will the Feds ever relax the rules on using phones in flight?

Christopher Null | May 20, 2013
Hop on an Emirates flight in Dubai and get up to cruising altitude. You realize you forgot to tell your assistant to make some crucial plans when you arrive at your destination. No problem: Just take out your cell phone and make a quick phone call.

But all of this makes me wonder, if cell phones really interfere with airplane navigation systems, why are incidents so rare? I am literally never on a flight where someone in my row hasn't had their phone turned on for the entire trip. Why don't planes veer off course every day? And why are airplanes so prone to this problem: Why don't phones interfere with increasingly complicated terrestrial navigation systems? Are smart phones going to cause all those self-driving Google cars to go haywire and start running down schoolchildren?

I'm not expecting anything to change--even the industry cheerleaders at the Consumer Electronics Association report that only four of 10 airline passengers say they want to be able to use electronic devices in all phases of a flight, which means that 60 percent of fliers are OK with the rules around requiring everything to be shut off during takeoff and landing. (The CEA didn't even ask about using cell phones for voice calls, but one study taken just last month found that a whopping 80 percent of fliers still do not want people to be able to make calls in the air.)

That's fine with me. I'd be happy enough with being able to use a phone or tablet (in airplane mode, even) during takeoff and landing. For business travelers, this is arguably a bigger deal. The strange rules around turning electronic devices off during takeoff and landing put a bigger drain on productivity than the voice-call ban. If you think about it, all the time wasted while gadget use is disallowed results in up to an hour of downtime on each flight, and no one has shown any issue with devices in airplane mode impacting cockpit instrumentation.

Frankly, I'd rather be working while we're sitting on the tarmac. What else am I going to do, read a magazine?


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