I'll Ignore You If You Promise Not To Kill Us
March 11, 2012 7:48 PM   Subscribe

According to this post, electronics rule violations on planes won't really put my safety in jeopardy (by bringing the plan down or anything) but am I supposed to ignore blatant electronics usage during take-off and landing?

I've begun to see an uptick in people around me using their electronics for expressly prohibited activities like text messaging and internet browsing. Example: one guy last week was txting while we were barreling down the runway trying to take off. The offenders usually know what they're doing because they strategically hide their devices when flight attendants are near.

I generally ignore these people and can't imagine a confrontation asking them to stop what they're doing.

Question: Should I continue to ignore and leave it to karma? There's no safety issue here, right?
posted by shew to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
With all due respect, relying on this site to settle the question of safety would be a mistake. I think you recognize that, because you read a prior post that was less than conclusive once you waded through the answers, but you close this post by asking for confirmation . . . to the same crowd.

Assuming there is some remote possibility of a safety issue, you might well take responsibility by asking them to turn off their devices. The theory would be the same as for asking people talking on cells while driving to hang up; more easily documented safety risk there, by far, but also fewer innocent lives at stake in any given instance, and harder to communicate with them. Then again, you say you can't imagine confronting them anyway.

Now that I think about it, what exactly are you asking?

P.S. I myself have asked people to turn them off. Not so much because I am afraid of a crash, but rather because I think people who violate rules like that are kind of being assholes, and I don't feel like I have to hesitate before behaving a bit like an asshole myself.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:01 PM on March 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I see this a lot too (including on the flight I am on right now) and I figure that my saying something to them is pretty much pointless. Assholes will continue to ignore the rules. If it were that big of a safety issue then the flight attendants would be more militant (in my opinion). I do derive some satisfaction out of a flight attendant speaking sternly to a passenger who hasn't turned off their phone,which happens occasionally.
posted by cabingirl at 8:10 PM on March 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Based on what I (& it sounds like you) have read, using electronics during take-off & landing will not interfere with the plane's instrumentation, but could cause an issue because it distracts people during the times they most need to be attentive. Personally, I wouldn't ignore the warnings, but I do not know that I would say anything to someone else who was clearly listening to an iPod or something. Is someone else ignoring the rules a safety violation? Technically, yes, but if you are doing what you are supposed to do then your safety probably won't be compromised.
posted by katemcd at 8:15 PM on March 11, 2012

If the devices were ACTUALLY dangerous, the airlines would take more than the current blatantly token measures to prevent their being used.

I put them away when asked to, but in my opinion asking someone else to do so just for the sanctimonious self-satisfaction it would bring, is a little beyond the pale.
posted by zachawry at 8:27 PM on March 11, 2012 [20 favorites]

I think politely asking them to turn them off is well within your rights.
posted by maryr at 9:05 PM on March 11, 2012

Hi, I'm your seatmate, covertly reading my Kindle as we barrel down the runway. And there is a good chance I AM your seatmate if you are flying in the U.S., because in the last year I've logged more than 120k miles domestically. My kindle has an on/off switch even though it lacks wifi (yes, I know many more are wifi capable, but many like mine aren't), so it has been nimbly added to the list of electronics that the flight attendants politely request us to turn off - all the way off - before we leave the gate. However, because kindles utilize e-ink technology, turning it off only changes the display to another type of stand-by...the exact same standby as when it was displaying my book.

If the prohibition on electronics during take-off and landing is mostly about limiting distractions during a period of time when passengers should be listening and attentive, then all other distractions should get the same treatment. Reading passengers should be asked to cease. Sleeping passengers should be awakened. Chatting passengers should be silenced. Noise canceling headphones shouldn't merely be unplugged, but removed from heads. Books and magazines (in addition to my kindle) should be safely stowed.

If the prohibition on electronics is more about limiting possible injuries due to loose carry-ons, then books, magazines, and everything else should also be safely stored for takeoff and landing. How is my 6 ounce kindle potentially more dangerous than a 2+ lb hardback novel? I would much rather be clocked in the head with a kindle than Stephenie Myer's latest tome.

Next time you're sitting next to me, if you see me reading my kindle, feel free to ask me in a polite and considerate way to turn it off during takeoff. I will equally politely decline, and go back to my book (unless of course you appear to be panicked about flying in general and this might further exacerbate your heightened anxieties; in this case, I'd likely turn it off because I feel badly for you). It is up to you then whether you want to ring your call button and tell a FA.
posted by arnicae at 9:30 PM on March 11, 2012 [20 favorites]

Aah, and for what its worth, the FAA recently issued a permit allowing AA pilots to use iPads (on, no less!) during take-off and landing of commercial flights. The FAA does note that the risk of interference will be "low" since only two electronic devices will be simultaneously operating.
posted by arnicae at 9:39 PM on March 11, 2012

The strangest, seemingly most innocuous things can disrupt aircraft systems, and when interference is present it's often very difficult to pin it to a definite source. Here's a short article by a fellow who specializes in cause/effect analysis, Peter Ladkin-
Risks-List article
His website:

If you read some of his work concerning aircraft failure analysis, you might be tempted to walk next time....
On preview, the iPad thing is fascinating.... it has, of course, been tested for such interference... and we'd presume them flyboys have the things flipped to, um, "airplane mode".....
posted by drhydro at 9:48 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

and- would that be "pre-zoom" or post-zoom?"
posted by drhydro at 9:49 PM on March 11, 2012

I do not covertly attempt to use my portable electronics during takeoff land landing. You, however, are not the aircraft police and not should be that jerk who attempts to enforce the rules. By all means speak up if you notice someone doing such tasks as smoking, attempting to open the emergency exit during taxi, or preparing a collection of boxcutters. But fiddling around with a cell phone does not qualify as a public concern that requires your assistance to prevent.

Besides, you've got to sit with this person for the next few hours. That is going to become awfully unpleasant after you've reprimanded him for his electronics use.
posted by zachlipton at 12:39 AM on March 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

I fell asleep on a flight the other day with my earphones in. When we came to land, my colleague who was sat next to me was asked to to remove his earphones and switch his iPod off. The cabin attendant didn't wake me up and my iPod was still on when he touched down.

I think the iPod/kindle ban is frankly silly as they don't distract other passengers. I'm all for banning phones since they are more likely to be transmitters, and are far more annoying as you have some idiot carrying on a loud conversation that irritates other passengers. I'm not looking forward to widespread WiFi on planes as I can imagine the Skype conversations...

The cabin attendant should be the one who enforces the rule, not you.
posted by arcticseal at 2:10 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many people are assholes only if and when they can get away with it, and the people who keep their things on assume none of their fellow passengers will say anything. I'm in favor of gently calling them out - as super-duper politely as you can. If they want to get whiny about having to shut off their iPod for ten minutes like everyone else on the plane, that's on them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:16 AM on March 12, 2012

Oh, come on. Does this really warrant a calling out? There's no safety issue. Would you ask someone to place their seat in the upright position too? Those 1.5 inches of recline could make all the difference! Keep your focus on yourself; don't worry about other people.
posted by valeries at 4:21 AM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

According to this recent WSJ article "Turn Off All Electronic Devices", "Airline rules backed by federal laws allow crews to turn a plane back to the gate and toss passengers off flights." The print article is clearer that the legal basis is failing to comply with authorized crew members for whatever reason.
posted by gregoreo at 5:36 AM on March 12, 2012

As someone who has to deal with this very issue for a living (albeit not directly and for military applications), let me explain what's going on:

The FAA has a very clear list of electronic items that are expressly allowed to be used on aircraft (notably, electric shavers are on this list). They leave everything else up to the individual airlines to allow or disallow, provided they can prove that they don't present a safety hazard. Here (pdf) is the relevant Advisory Circular, which is short and easy to read.

So why is your pilot allowed to use an iPad while you have to shut off yours and stare glumly out the window? Because they've been tested! Two devices in the cockpit have been tested and found to not adversely interfere with the other electronics in the aircraft. It has not been proven that thirty or fifty more people playing with their iPads in the back of the airplane is also safe. The cost of proving that (which your air carrier will have to pay for) is not justified so that you can play Angry Birds for an extra ten minutes on the flight. That's really what it boils down to.

EMI is a strange beast and is really, really difficult to quantify. You really can't say "Well, one iPad is fine, so two or thirty should also be fine!" It's a system-level issue, not so much a unit-level issue - what I mean by that is that the system as a whole (meaning airplane, all its radios, plus every passenger's electronics) needs to be evaluated for interference effects. You can't just take the spec sheet from your iPod or whatever and decide whether or not it's going to cause problems.

As an example, we just put two rotating transmitters on the outside of my airplane - imagine a steerable antenna. Anyway, the transmitters don't cause any problems on the airplane but the servo motors that rotate them do. And only the one at the back of the airplane, the front one doesn't seem to cause problems. The moral is that this stuff is complicated and unpredictable.

So, is this a big huge safety concern and we're all going to die if 15A doesn't shut off his damned phone? Well... no, probably not. But no one's proven it, and no one wants to pay to prove it, because 15A can damn well suck his thumb for ten minutes until we get airborne and the world isn't going to end because he can't get his important text message out.

All that being said, I do think having to shut off my Kindle (and only my Kindle specifically) is pretty stupid, but I do put my phone in Airplane Mode and I will shoot dirty looks at other people who are texting right up until we take off. However, next time you can trim your beard with your electric razor to your heart's content, knowing that you will not be endangering your fellow passengers.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:59 AM on March 12, 2012 [28 favorites]

The pilots were cleared to use the iPads during flight to replace bulky chartbooks. And you know what two times the pilots don't need charts? Take off and Landing. They might need it during taxing, because getting around the taxiways of an unfamiliar airport is a non-trivial experience, according to a friend at Boeing in their ground-navigation section.

The other thing is that the flight attendants really do want your attention out of your devices during takeoff and landing for these reasons: A) they give a safety lecture before takeoff, and I know you've heard it a million times, but you still look for that nearest exit when they mention it, don't you? B) takeoff and landing are the two parts of the flight with the most survivable calamities. Plane blowing up in midair? Please, enjoy your iPod, it'll make the experience a little better for you. Plane veers off runway or a landing truck collapses? You'll be glad you're not tangled in a yard of headphone wire as you try to listen for instructions.

I hate the rule as much as you do, and I think the FAA lies like a rug about the actual reasons for the ban, but for people on board who are enforcing it (or not), I think they know what they're doing.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:49 AM on March 12, 2012

The arguments by those defending their rights to use electronics -- or their rights to be free from being asked, we can assume politely, to comply with the rules -- strike me as specious.

1. You really have no idea whether your activity is dangerous or not. The fact that more draconian measures aren't taken is only a very soft indicator. I see widespread compliance with the rule, and others have suggested that the problem may be one potentially created by widespread noncompliance with the rule under uncertain circumstances. Granted, we don't know the magnitude of the risk at all, and at this point it's just a theory.

2. Some have more specialized pleas relating to their devices, like the Kindle. I share with you the expectation that the rule is based on a gross generalization about electronic devices. However, unless you seriously contemplate making the attendants expert in all devices, and requiring them to administer a rule that allows individuals to make self-serving declarations about their devices, this kind of approach is very difficult to administer. Get back in touch when you acquiesce in a rule that puts a big "FAA approved" sticker on the front of your device.

3. As against a potential risk -- one that I agree could be *much* better explained -- we have the apparent neat to suck at the teat of your device. You knew when purchasing your ticket what the rules were. Now you assert the right to value your convenience over a potential safety issue, reasoning that the airlines do not follow their concerns out to the logical extreme, and apparently awaiting proof in the form of a downed flight.

On my view, if we can ask people to turn off cells in a movie theater, we can ask them to do it in a flight, and not feel too much like jerks if we call trespasses to the attention of others.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:15 AM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

[Reminder: This isn't the place for a free ranging discussion or arguments about various devices – or debates of any kind. Don't argue with other commenters. The OP would like to know if the safety issues involving use of electronic devices (specifically browsing/messaging) are significant enough to alert staff. ]
posted by taz at 10:47 AM on March 12, 2012

An AskMe post isn't authority on whether or not electronic devices cause interference or not.

So you should ask them not to do it. I would not tattle, though.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:12 AM on March 12, 2012

[Taz, I defer to your judgment. By way of explanation, I thought the OP wanted to know whether or not to ignore the conduct, which touches on what to do, and didn't even mention alerting staff in particular. And which devices surely bears on the safety question, even narrowly defined. But won't post further, as would invariably involve argument.]
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:20 AM on March 12, 2012

I am a private pilot and come from a long line of pilots (commercial airline, cargo, and private)

First, yes some electroncis can mess with instermentation. Really, it is the communication systems that can be most affected. However, almost all commercial devices are tested by the airlines to see if they will cause serious issues, and frankly, most electronic devices are way too weak to cause even the slightest issue.

That being said, there are many other reasons why us pilots hate people having their elctronics on during take off and landing:

1) Takeoffs and landings can be quite rough and prone to turbulance. Cross-wind conditions are the worst. The very last thing that we want is your kindel flying out of your hand and smacking the baby three rows ahead of you in the face. This is also why you are asked to stuff your bags all the way under the seat in front of you.

2) Music, Movies, Phone calls as the plan is taking off, games, etc are loud when you have 50 people doing it all at once. Getting people to listen to safty procedures is near impossible already let alone when they have all sorts of shiny toys around to distract them.

3) You need to be still with your back against the seat during take off and landing. You know how you tend to lean forward and look down while texting or playing games? If we have to do an emergency stop on landing or abort a takeoff then your head is going to smack right into the seat in front of you.

I have heard so many stories related to the above three points in my 20 years of hanging around the airport. Honestly, those rules are more to get you to sit properly and not fling stuff around or be loud than to prevent electromagnetic interference, but we don't tell you that because the fear of possibly bringing the plane down seems to be the only deterrent that people will in any way take seriously and respond to.

tl;dr: It is easier to let people think that it might take the plain down then explain that we don't trust them to hang on their stuff, pay attention, and not flail or sit in a potentially dangerous position.
posted by Shouraku at 11:38 AM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry, trying to type on my cell phone coincidentally.
posted by Shouraku at 11:44 AM on March 12, 2012

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