Is FAA gadget policy about to change?

According to a report, the Federal Aviation Authority, perhaps bowing to a certain level of reason, has decided to rethink its gadget policy on planes. Is this a good thing?

Look, no gadgets. And they seem happy on their Virgin America flight. Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When you get on a plane, you don't merely have to suspend your sense of time and space--you also have to place your disbelief in the overhead locker.

The idea that your cell phone or your iPad can interfere with navigation systems seems a little extreme, when pilots themselves are now increasingly using iPads in their cockpits.

And will he or she who has--at one time or another--not forgotten to turn off their cell phone on a flight please stand for president of the new Self-Righteous Party.

There is a possibility, though, that the Federal Aviation Administration might be changing its mind on its gadget policy.

The New York Times reports that having badgered the FAA to within a few inches of being buzzed overhead in their homes, the authorities have decided to enjoy a "fresh look" at the rules.

This will be especially heartening for many, given that the last time the FAA tested gadgets in flight, it was 2006. This was a time when the iPhone was merely a thought and the iPad something that Apple's Steve Jobs believed was something you'd only use while seated on the toilet.

In what seems like a slight swipe at the airlines themselves, the FAA's Laura Brown told the Times: "With the advent of new and evolving electronic technology, and because the airlines have not conducted the testing necessary to approve the use of new devices, the FAA is taking a fresh look at the use of personal electronic devices, other than cell phones, on aircraft."

Translation: the airlines don't want to spend money on this. So we will in order to stop your whining.

Some might wonder, though, whether this whining is a little much. Essentially, we are talking about not being able to use your precious devices during takeoff and landing. Are human beings truly incapable of doing without these things for this total of, say, one hour?

Is it really so troubling to support what's left of the magazine industry for this short period of time?

There are surely many who are delighted that cell phones cannot be used on flights. Can one imagine what it would be like listening to someone drone on in a loud voice (most important business people must speak loudly) for five hours?

Would it be useful to offer a reminder of the lady who was thrown off an Amtrak train for chatting rather loudly for, um, 16 hours?

Personally, the gadget rule I would most like instituted is one that limits the size of laptops that can be opened in flight.

If you're in coach and the person next to you opens up one of those vast, ancient PCs that look like they're made of granite, you tend to receive vibrating elbows in your ribs for the duration.

These people seem so oblivious, because of course, work--or on flights where there's Wi-Fi, Facebook--must come first.

I hope that somehow a balance might be reached where the priority is less whether gadgets can be used when the plane is descending to earth, but more whether the use of those gadgets really gets on someone else's wick.

 

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