People have been arrested, punched in the face, and treated like terrorists for refusing to turn off their electronic devices on planes. Despite the fact that there is no evidence that these devices interfere with the operation of a passenger plane, the rules continue to be enforced. One of the airlines even announced recently that their pilots were using iPads instead of paper flight manuals.
Dealing with the F.A.A. on this topic is like arguing with a stubborn teenager. The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane’s avionics, but it still perpetuates such claims, spreading irrational fear among millions of fliers.
A year ago, when I first asked Les Dorr, a spokesman for the F.A.A., why the rule existed, he said the agency was being cautious because there was no proof that device use was completely safe. He also said it was because passengers needed to pay attention during takeoff.
When I asked why I can read a printed book but not a digital one, the agency changed its reasoning. I was told by another F.A.A. representative that it was because an iPad or Kindle could put out enough electromagnetic emissions to disrupt the flight. Yet a few weeks later, the F.A.A. proudly announced that pilots could now use iPads in the cockpit instead of paper flight manuals.
The F.A.A. then told me that “two iPads are very different than 200.” But experts at EMT Labs, an independent testing facility in Mountain View, Calif., say there is no difference in radio output between two iPads and 200. “Electromagnetic energy doesn’t add up like that,” said Kevin Bothmann, the EMT Labs testing manager.
It’s not a matter of a flying device hitting another passenger, either. Kindles weigh less than six ounces; Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs weighs 2.1 pounds in hardcover. I’d rather be hit in the head by an iPad Mini than a 650-page book.
In October, after months of pressure from the public and the news media, the F.A.A. finally said it would begin a review of its policies on electronic devices in all phases of flight, including takeoff and landing. But the agency does not have a set time frame for announcing its findings.