New Kindle feature: doesn't cause the plane's wings to fall off anymore!
October 31, 2013 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Just in time for holiday travel, the FAA now approves use of portable electronic devices for the entire duration of your flight.
posted by phunniemee (94 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
But I need the rage I feel towards that one asshole on every plane who refuses to turn off his doodad during takeoff to sustain me throughout the flight by distracting me from my terror of flying!
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:21 AM on October 31, 2013 [19 favorites]


Note: "Due to differences among fleets and operations, the implementation will vary among airlines, but the agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year."

So depending on which carrier you use, your carriage might vary.

There should be a website similar to Can I Use but for carriers instead of webbrowsers.
posted by KMB at 9:21 AM on October 31, 2013


It'll be nice not to have to use the hollowed-out book case to read with my ebook reader all flight long anymore. That thing's unwieldy.
posted by asperity at 9:22 AM on October 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


I had been under the impression that the 'may cause discrepancies in plane instrumentation' was a smoke screen for the real reason: not having dozens of weighty, small objects with not-so-soft-or-rounded corners ricocheting around the cabin during a crash.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:22 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Assume this will be unpopular, but I think the bans were good. It was an excuse to try and force people to pay attention while some basic rules were explained and keep people alert in the more dangerous times of the process. So now the flood gates are fully open and I suspect we can look forward to people next to us yapping away on their cell phones the whole flight. Ugh.
posted by T10B at 9:22 AM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


The article clearly states that usage of cell phones for voice calls in-flight is still banned.
posted by elizardbits at 9:23 AM on October 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


It shouldn't surprise me so much that the sourcessayalecbaldwinisfeelingverysmug tag only has this one hit.
posted by Etrigan at 9:24 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


So now the flood gates are fully open and I suspect we can look forward to people next to us yapping away on their cell phones the whole flight. Ugh.

Phones are only being allowed in "airplane mode", so no cell radio operation, and no yapping.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:24 AM on October 31, 2013


So now the flood gates are fully open and I suspect we can look forward to people next to us yapping away on their cell phones the whole flight. Ugh.

If all electronic devices are allowed, that means we can use our tasers on the yappy cell phone people. Problem solved. An electrified flight is a polite flight, as I always say.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:24 AM on October 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


No calls, but you will be able to enjoy the tinny bass beat from your seat neighbor's cranked-up earbuds for the entire flight now.
posted by localroger at 9:25 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


A small part of me hopes that "airplane mode" on phones remains in the lexicon as an archaic term that future generations are thoroughly confused by.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 9:27 AM on October 31, 2013 [19 favorites]


I have to wonder--it's a little fuzzy, because clearly cellular calls aren't okay, but if wifi is, then what about voice calls over Skype?

I am in favor of this, anyway, because I am very inclined to get motion-sick, which makes takeoff and landing an experience I absolutely loathe. The ability to listen to something distracting goes a long way, and after doing a lot of research to be sure I wasn't going to crash the plane, my last few trips I have tended to set an audiobook going, tuck in one earbud on the opposite side from the aisle, and mind my own business until it was all over. I'm pleased to not have to do so covertly anymore.
posted by Sequence at 9:28 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Previously.
posted by theodolite at 9:28 AM on October 31, 2013


This has never been a problem for me because I refuse to go digital. I carry a record player and Will Durant's Story of Civilization on the plane with me. Smartphones are ruining humanity.
posted by ChuckRamone at 9:30 AM on October 31, 2013 [17 favorites]


It was an excuse to try and force people to pay attention while some basic rules were explained and keep people alert in the more dangerous times of the process
This was never really the case. I was perfectly free to read a book made from dead trees, I just couldn't read the electronic version. I haven't looked up at a safety briefing in years. I can, however, repeat it word for word.
posted by Lame_username at 9:30 AM on October 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


if wifi is, then what about voice calls over Skype
The latency of in-flight wifi is so terrible that Skype is impossible.
posted by Lame_username at 9:31 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had been under the impression that the 'may cause discrepancies in plane instrumentation' was a smoke screen for the real reason: not having dozens of weighty, small objects with not-so-soft-or-rounded corners ricocheting around the cabin during a crash.

Except that the average e-reader is significantly smaller, lighter, and softer-cornered than the average hardcover book.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:31 AM on October 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have to wonder--it's a little fuzzy, because clearly cellular calls aren't okay, but if wifi is, then what about voice calls over Skype?

The in-air wifi provider I'm most familiar with (gogo) blocks Skype voice and video calls, as well as streaming video services. The bandwidth of in-flight wifi is pretty limited, and the latency is terrible.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:32 AM on October 31, 2013


Score 1 for rational public policy finally prevailing over irrational panic and grandstanding! So that makes it like 1,723,566 to 1. At least it's no longer a shutout!
posted by RogerB at 9:32 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Omg thank you so much for the previously link and the glorious skymall derail within.
posted by elizardbits at 9:34 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh sweet jesus yes. I have a very poor tolerance for boredom and that time between doors closing and 10k feet is completely interminable.

If you ever want me to confess to a murder just put me in a pleasant enough room with nothing to read not even a shampoo bottle. I'd give me 5 minutes.
posted by ftm at 9:34 AM on October 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


So depending on which carrier you use, your carriage might vary.

For instance, if you take Spirit Airlines, the answer is "NO" because "FUCK YOU" is why.


Spirit Airlines : WE HATE YOU GIVE US MONEY
posted by louche mustachio at 9:34 AM on October 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


Score 1 for rational public policy finally prevailing over irrational panic and grandstanding!

I'm guessing the rational thing would have been to only ban them after a plane left a smoking hole in the ground ?

I'm not much of a thrill seeker, and am perfectly OK with an abundance of caution when it comes to air travel.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:35 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes I realize the ban or in flight call is banned- for now- thus the flood gate and future tense stuff. Sorry if I was unclear- cynicism can make me muddy. Haven't you already seen the excuses given regarding tech. This will make it easier. Give it time. "I'm not making a phone call- he called me!", etc.
posted by T10B at 9:35 AM on October 31, 2013


the real reason: not having dozens of weighty, small objects with not-so-soft-or-rounded corners ricocheting around the cabin during a crash.

I'd rather get hit in the head by a phone than a hardcover book, but they never banned those.
posted by echo target at 9:35 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


This has never been a problem for me because I refuse to go digital. I carry a record player and Will Durant's Story of Civilization on the plane with me. Smartphones are ruining humanity.

You're Jonathan Franzen and I claim my five pounds.
posted by Kitteh at 9:35 AM on October 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


Here is where I am going to drop my thanks to the potatoes that contributed to the safety study.

I've been wondering why this has taken so long, especially since flights in other parts of the world have already been doing this for many years (using electronic devices in flight, not necessarily doing research with the spuds).
posted by Wolfster at 9:38 AM on October 31, 2013


I've been told by a bunch of carriers that they have a policies of about 1 lb/500 kg for devices allowed to be stored in the seat backs. Heavier electronics, like laptops, have to be stowed during takeoff/touchdown to avoid flying bricks. I've often wondered if that limit was considered a design constraint for tablets, or if that's just a good upper weight for being able to hold a device for longer periods.
posted by bonehead at 9:39 AM on October 31, 2013


I don't think cell phone calls even work in planes. And if they are forcing you to use some kind of pay service to make the calls... it's just the same as the current seatback phones.
posted by smackfu at 9:39 AM on October 31, 2013


A small part of me hopes that "airplane mode" on phones remains in the lexicon as an archaic term that future generations are thoroughly confused by.

Every airliner I have been on has two overhead warning lights telling passengers there is no smoking and to fasten seat belts. Passengers have been required (in Canada at least) to keep seat belts buckled while seated for years and smoking has been banned for decades.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:40 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's funny that you have to put your phone in "airplane mode" And you're ON an airplane! Get it?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:40 AM on October 31, 2013


They really need to prohibit people from bringing outside fast food onto the plane; that way I wouldn't have to inhale stale ketchup and fry grease fumes for five hours straight.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:44 AM on October 31, 2013


I had the impression that the reason was not having to work through and exclude a raft if possible causes if something went south - but because so many people violated the rules you couldn't reasonably say nope, no way a Nook did this even with a ban. (Although perhaps you would have insurance claim and civil suit protection with a rule. )
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:45 AM on October 31, 2013


The latency of in-flight wifi is so terrible that Skype is impossible.

I am now thinking of a performance piece where you get six people to sit in different parts of the cabin and log on to a skype conference call. The plane will soon be full of voices, both actual and broadcast, going "what? what?" It will be hilarious.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:46 AM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


if wifi is, then what about voice calls over Skype

data transmission is still banned below 10k.

I've never tried using Skype above 10k, but if you're using the in-flight wi-fi service offered by some carriers I'd guess that Skype is blocked, purely from a bandwidth-hog on a "limited pipe for all passengers to share" rationale.
posted by matty at 9:47 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


People you are in an aluminum and steel tube rapidly accelerating to 180 miles per hour, and then climbing to an altitude of 30,000 feet! On the way back you are decelerating, basically dissipating all that kinetic energy, in 20 seconds!

Surely you can sit there, pay attention, and if necessary be ready to evacuate for all of the 15 minutes it takes to get there.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:48 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


What is there to pay attention to on takeoff or landing as a passenger? If the shit starts going down I imagine it will get everyone's attention pretty quickly.
posted by invitapriore at 9:51 AM on October 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


If anything goes wrong during takeoff, my Kindle isn't going to delay me from evacuating.

It probably won't slow me down when the plane is evacuated, either.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:53 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I no longer have to pretend to be a rabbi or Russian Orthodox priest?
(Long hair, beard, Bible-looking Kindle covered in black)
posted by doctornemo at 9:56 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are in-flight voice calls even possible? I always figured that reception at 30000 feet is basically non-existent.
posted by invitapriore at 9:56 AM on October 31, 2013


I'm curious about this part of the FAA release
In some instances of low visibility – about one percent of flights – some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.
What are they saying? Presumably it's about instrument approaches in bad weather, but what is "proven PED tolerant"? Is FAA requiring airlines do some sort of certification of their equipment? If any significant amount of IFR equipment were thought vulnerable to PEDs there's no way this would ever have been approved in the first place.
posted by Nelson at 9:56 AM on October 31, 2013


Has anyone tried dictating a book while on an airplane?
posted by fragmede at 9:58 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can I continue to use my cellphone-jammer on domestic flights?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:11 AM on October 31, 2013


Surely you can sit there, pay attention, and if necessary be ready to evacuate for all of the 15 minutes it takes to get there.

No, I can't, because I am crammed in shoulder to bloody shoulder with 400 of the biggest idiots on the planet who said to themselves "Hey ho, I feel a spot of leprosy coming on, better take this fully-loaded flight and not even bother to cover my mouth so the other 399 souls aboard can all inhale the various and diverse viral ecology of my respiratory tract and furthermore I will bring nothing to do during my five hour trip as Patient Zero so I will expect them to make polite conversation with me and be my personal in flight entertainment despite being the most boring person alive".

My iPad is what's keeping me from becoming a Terrorist Incident.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:12 AM on October 31, 2013 [14 favorites]


So depending on which carrier you use, your carriage might vary.

Have they figured out how to charge a fee yet?
posted by Artw at 10:15 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've been wondering why this has taken so long, especially since flights in other parts of the world have already been doing this for many years (using electronic devices in flight, not necessarily doing research with the spuds).

The FAA has a history of doing things their own way, international community be damned, so I'm not surprised. That being said, US airspace and air carriers are among the safest in the world so my first inclination would be to trust what the FAA's been doing.

What are they saying? Presumably it's about instrument approaches in bad weather, but what is "proven PED tolerant"?

My guess is that the airlines will have to show a minimum (or no) amount of deviation to instrument approaches while folks are playing on their cell phones in the back. They're probably just looking for compliance with existing EMI standards for flight deck equipment.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:15 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Doesn't apply to me; I bring my typewriter on flights. More productive, and I find the clacking sound of the keys very soothing.
posted by naju at 10:16 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm sort of confused. So far as I know, in Europe electronic devices (in airplane mode, if applicable) have always been allowed once the seatbelt signs go off. Is this not the case in the States?
posted by epo at 10:16 AM on October 31, 2013


Doesn't apply to me; I bring my typewriter on flights.

I'm gonna save a bundle if I no longer have to pay for extra seats for my team of Benedictine scribes.
posted by elizardbits at 10:21 AM on October 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


So far as I know, in Europe electronic devices (in airplane mode, if applicable) have always been allowed once the seatbelt signs go off. Is this not the case in the States?

There was a period when they weren't allowed at all, but "after takeoff and before landing" has been the standard for a while in the U.S. as well. This change would mean that you don't even have to wait for the seatbelt sign to go off.
posted by Etrigan at 10:23 AM on October 31, 2013


epo, yeah. They're now letting passengers use them during takeoff, landing and taxi-ing. From gate to gate.
posted by qi at 10:25 AM on October 31, 2013


Are in-flight voice calls even possible? I always figured that reception at 30000 feet is basically non-existent.

They're possible. They have the potential to cause havoc with cellular networks though. Cells can only be so large, and at typical airplane speeds a caller may go through the cells in mere seconds. I suspect that the backend is hard pressed to keep up with routing calls in this scenario.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:27 AM on October 31, 2013


This wouldn't be so bad if cellphones were designed so that one could properly hear oneself talk into a phone, instead of talking more loudly so that one is sure that the other person can hear them.

Also, it wouldn't hurt if airlines played safety instruction videos at the gate, in addition to all the other safety instructions given.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:29 AM on October 31, 2013


Are in-flight voice calls even possible? I always figured that reception at 30000 feet is basically non-existent.

Speaking from experience, not really. I usually take my Cessna around 6,000-8,000 feet and I can usually get out a text message if I need to (although it takes a couple of tries), but voice calls are just not going to happen. In addition to the tower hopping problem, most of the energy from a cell tower is directed towards the ground, where the people with the phones are. Aiming energy into the atmosphere is just waste, so you're not going to get a good signal, if any.

If you have a satphone, though, it will work fine in the air. In fact, one of the ways you can get air traffic control while you're over the ocean is to call them up on the satphone - it's insanely expensive, but it works.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:35 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


...now I'm having this horrible waking nightmare of a dystopian future where all business is conducted via text message and autocorrect is still horrible and trying to declare an emergency from the air and it looks like MAYTAG MAYTAG MAYTAG ENGINEER TROUBADOUR OCEAN and air traffic control is all, guess he wants us to send him a singing washing machine repairman
posted by backseatpilot at 10:40 AM on October 31, 2013 [20 favorites]


Good. There are dozens of electronic devices in use on every flight anyway. Just because your phone is locked and in your pocket doesn't mean its CPU isn't spinning away doing tasks.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:42 AM on October 31, 2013


I was delighted enough when BA started having the in-flight TV working from gate-to-gate, so this is just overload. I'm never going to get through another entire issue of a magazine in my life, am I?
posted by bonaldi at 10:43 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm never going to get through another entire issue of a magazine in my life, am I?

I wonder if this will have a measurable impact on magazine sales at airport stores / kiosks.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:50 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always put my Kindle away without actually turning it off for no real reason other than being a pain in the ass and the fact that I know they aren't checking which they would do if it were any serious danger. That and leaving my phone on but on silent the whole flight is basically how I get my little chaotic neutral damn the man kick because once in a while I'm just a fucking rebel.

Normally I'm lawful good.

Shut up, everyone who knows me.

posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:54 AM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


I always put my Kindle away without actually turning it off for no real reason other than being a pain in the ass and the fact that I know they aren't checking which they would do if it were any serious danger. That and leaving my phone on but on silent the whole flight is basically how I get my little chaotic neutral damn the man kick because once in a while I'm just a fucking rebel.

Is “switching a Kindle off” an actual thing, technically speaking? I thought that Kindles were effectively powered down except for the immediate period during which they redraw the screen, respond to button presses or service USB requests from a PC, with the splash screen when it's “off” being nothing more than a sop to clueless authority figures.
posted by acb at 11:09 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is “switching a Kindle off” an actual thing, technically speaking?

My 1st gen kindle had a power switch with both on and off positions.

Newer kindles seem to all have the "power button that can be held down for 5 seconds to do a full shutdown" When it's shut down, it won't respond to USB requests or button presses (though it will charge).
posted by sparklemotion at 11:16 AM on October 31, 2013


No, it's not about hard things flying around the cabin, because hardback books (or even weighty paperbacks) are just as dangerous and were never banned. N.B. that, in years past, analog music players like Walkmen weren't banned during that period,.

The ban wasn't about paying attention, either, because they never banned reading paper matter during the announcements.

It was just bullshit snake oil, and it's always been bullshit snake oil. It's kissing cousins to the bullshit ID requirements we're now stuck with post-9/11, which have their roots in a desire to kill the secondary ticket market, not increase security.

The whole rule has been self-evidently bullshit for years. First, I doubt very much there's a single flight in any given day where all the devices are actually off. For one thing, who powers down their laptop to fly?

For another: people are forgetful. How many phones do you think get stuffed into carryon and stowed overhead without even going into "airplane mode" in a given day? I'm not talking about willful noncompliance; I'm talking about tired people who forget. My guess is it's more than a couple on each and every flight, and that's before you get to people like me.

And yet, the planes keep not falling from the sky.

Finally, how screwed would we be if it was possible for a bloody-minded terrorist to fuck with the instruments, the communication, the navigation system, or whatever with a modified bit of personal electronics, let alone a stock model?

For these reasons, I ignore the "all the way off, not in airplane mode" pleas from the flight crew. I put my phone in airplane mode, sure, but I never turn it all the way off. I turn off the wifi in my Kindle or iPad if I remember to do so before I stow my bag, but if I don't remember until I'm seated I don't sweat it.

Because it doesn't matter. And this rule change is just them finally acknowledging that.
posted by uberchet at 11:25 AM on October 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm not much of a thrill seeker, and am perfectly OK with an abundance of caution when it comes to air travel.

I wish this abundance also extended to the safety issue of not having my knees broken when the person in front me reclines their seat.
posted by srboisvert at 11:35 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


All airplane safety messages would go better if they were like this: Alaska Airlines/Timbers Ad.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:57 AM on October 31, 2013


Don't need a damn cellphone on a plane. I bring my telegraph with me when I fly, never had a problem. Oh, sure, sometimes the lines get a bit twisted up, but other than that, I'm just a hap-hap-happy, tap-tap-tappy guy! Full stop.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:22 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looks like it will actually be next year according to the article. I was hoping to have it this year for my long Thanksgiving flight. Oh well.
posted by michellenoel at 12:22 PM on October 31, 2013


It was just bullshit snake oil

Well as long as no one ever uses a cell phone at a gas pump, we'll still be safe.
posted by Nelson at 12:29 PM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


My Kindle doesn't have an off switch. It's either displaying text; displaying the "screen saver" or re-booting. The little button on the bottom switches the display between text & screensaver--there is no "off". When it's completely drained of battery, the screen shows nothing, until you plug it in to charge it, at which point it shows the charging screen. I keep it in airplane mode, too, almost all of the time because I forget to take it out of airplane mode and then I'm confused when my new books aren't on it.

God, flying in the US, it just reduces me to incoherent sputterings of rage: what with the security theatre, the proximity to people who don't conform to my notions of decorum, the crowding, the cost, the constant blaring of meaningless announcements and televisions (and in Reno, fucking goddamn slot machines), the uncomfortable seats, the uncomfortable dry cabin air, the unhappy children who can't help it, the adults who won't shut up even though it's too loud in the cabin to have a conversation, the shitty shows on the screens which you can't make disappear.

I'm glad I can read the whole time now, I guess, but it's not going to do much to improve the quality of the experience, you know?
posted by crush-onastick at 12:38 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


When it's completely drained of battery, the screen shows nothing, until you plug it in to charge it, at which point it shows the charging screen.

IIRC, that means not that power is used to show a display, but that it spends its last breath clearing the screen to let you know that it's out of power.
posted by acb at 12:49 PM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I usually take my Cessna around 6,000-8,000 feet and I can usually get out a text message if I need to

Hopefully not at the same time.
posted by Melismata at 1:13 PM on October 31, 2013


This was never really the case. I was perfectly free to read a book made from dead trees, I just couldn't read the electronic version. I haven't looked up at a safety briefing in years. I can, however, repeat it word for word.

I only remember that smoking is not allowed.
posted by heathkit at 1:19 PM on October 31, 2013


As someone who is at least mildly afraid of flying while also being required to fly frequently for work, this is terrific news. The one part of flying that can still freak me out on occasion is take-off, particularly a bumpy one, and since this is the part of the flight where the satellite TV system on Jetblue most often goes wonky (first world problem, I know), having a backup of being able to play with my iPad instead of contemplating my upcoming fiery violent death (or reading about the Kardashians) is a welcome relief.
posted by The Gooch at 1:32 PM on October 31, 2013


I don't think the ban was bullshit. For example, NASA has a sample of PED-related reports from the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) that includes the following:
ACN: 950259
CRJ200 First Officer reports compass system malfunctions during initial climb. When passengers are asked to verify that all electronic devices are turned off the compass system returns to normal.

ACN: 754696
IN AN APPARENT PED INTERFERENCE EVENT, A PAX'S PORTABLE GARMIN GPS MODEL NUVI 660 ALLEGEDLY INTEFERED WITH A B737 CLASSIC'S (NO GLASS) DME NAVIGATION UPDATE FUNCTION.

ACN: 661013
FLT CREW OF CRJ-700 RPTS THAT AURAL INTERFERENCE IN VHF COMS CEASED WHEN PAX WERE ASKED TO ENSURE ALL FORMS OF 2-WAY COMS WERE TURNED OFF.
(The sample also includes lots of reports of passengers who responded angrily to being told to turn off a device and Kindles/batteries/etc. catching on fire.)

Just because a crew member reports that they think a problem was caused by a PED doesn't mean it really was, but it is at least evidence of potential problems. And a 2006 study looked at 251 PED-related reports from ASRS and concluded that 77 of them were "highly correlated".

And just because airplanes don't crash when one or two people use a cellphone in flight doesn't mean that it's safe when 100 people use their phones at the same time. That is something that needs to be studied.

Apparently it was studied and the risk was found to be acceptable, but it doesn't seem to me to be an obvious conclusion. It's something that you want to be conservative about until you have a chance to study it carefully. Therefore, not bullshit at all.
posted by jjwiseman at 1:39 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


The obvious counterpoint to that is: if something that radiates a handful of mW can seriously interfere with airplane safety, why haven't the terrorists disrupted traffic in this way?

Terrorist Bob reads the "PED-related reports" linked above, divines the common factor, and uses his EE knowledge to build a quarter-sized battery-operated plane crasher, solicits and pays people via craigslist to surreptitiously stick them under seats in hundreds of planes, and then they all activate on Xmas Eve as measured by the devices RTCs (or, if this is a movie, transmitted by piggybacking on GPS satellites or some shit).

If PEDs really interfere with avionics unintentionally, then the real worry has got to be deliberate interference, like forbidding any electronics whether in carry-on or checked luggage. And the real defense has to be to fix the avionics, not beg people to turn off their kindles instead of just setting them to the screensaver after the pilot notices something weird in his instruments before takeoff.
posted by jepler at 2:10 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


The obvious counterpoint to that is: if something that radiates a handful of mW can seriously interfere with airplane safety, why haven't the terrorists disrupted traffic in this way?

Because increasing the chance of an incident by 0.0001% is a really boring way to be a terrorist?

Not that I was in favor of the ban, but like jjwiseman, I can see the wisdom in the abundance of caution.
posted by PissOnYourParade at 2:25 PM on October 31, 2013


I think the research concluded that the risk of interference is so small that it is acceptable, therefore there's not really anything to defend against.

Plus, introducing a compass error of 20 degrees or causing a communications outage doesn't seem like the kind of thing most terrorists go for--they want a big explosion, not something that requires hundreds of people (I'd love to see that craigslist ad) to increase the chance of a crash by 1.25%. You might have to wait years for a crash, and then nobody would give you credit for the accident caused by the increased workload of a crew dealing with an apparent equipment malfunction.
posted by jjwiseman at 2:27 PM on October 31, 2013


I don't think the ban was bullshit. For example, NASA has a sample of PED-related reports from the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) that includes the following:

ACN: 950259
CRJ200 First Officer reports compass system malfunctions during initial climb. When passengers are asked to verify that all electronic devices are turned off the compass system returns to normal.

ACN: 754696
IN AN APPARENT PED INTERFERENCE EVENT, A PAX'S PORTABLE GARMIN GPS MODEL NUVI 660 ALLEGEDLY INTEFERED WITH A B737 CLASSIC'S (NO GLASS) DME NAVIGATION UPDATE FUNCTION.

ACN: 661013
FLT CREW OF CRJ-700 RPTS THAT AURAL INTERFERENCE IN VHF COMS CEASED WHEN PAX WERE ASKED TO ENSURE ALL FORMS OF 2-WAY COMS WERE TURNED OFF.


GPS receivers and "2-way coms" are still banned, and the first one is vague enough that there's no way of knowing that it isn't something that's still banned (like voice calls) so yes, I think the ban was bullshit.
posted by kersplunk at 2:33 PM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


In some instances of low visibility – about one percent of flights – some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.

This is interesting. I guess the FAA decided to retain a little bit of their snake oil bullshit just for kicks. I wouldn't want to be a flight attendant on one of these flights ... but, I'm guessing the SOP will be to forget about this exception. Which makes sense, even if there were something like a .00001% increased probability of an accident does not justify the added aggravation of trying to get passengers to turn off PED's after the FAA announced it isn't necessary.
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:43 PM on October 31, 2013


The ban was bullshit except for the parts that aren't?

"In one telling incident, a flight crew stated that a 30-degree navigation error was immediately corrected after a passenger turned off a DVD player and that the error reoccurred when the curious crew asked the passenger to switch the player on again."

Remember, I'm not saying that there is a risk. I'm saying it was not unreasonable to have conservative rules in place until the risks were well studied.
posted by jjwiseman at 2:45 PM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


OK, if you don't like the craigslist idea, then this guy gets a job in maintenance at a major hub and introduces his devices that way. I wonder how many planes you might be able to touch working at ORD for 6 months, for instance...

Since Terrorist Bob is a "smart guy", he knows how to elevate the chance of a diverted flight to nearly 100%, not just from .0001% to .1%. And if hundreds of planes experienced avionics failures at nearly the same time (that stop short of outright crashing the planes), it's not out of the question that there would be loss of life as ATC tries to sort everything out.

Yes, this "terror attack" is ultimately more of an "inconvenience attack", but after all they hate our way of life and just want to disrupt Xmas. More seriously, this really does seem like an effective economic attack. After all, '[i]n a 2004 tape broadcast by al-Jazeera, [Osama] bin Laden spoke of "bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy".[71]"' (wikipedia) (not to mention being emotionally impactful particularly if it was done during a holiday)
posted by jepler at 2:49 PM on October 31, 2013


I think the whole thing is silly because of how many devices were surely on and transmitting in people's bags, and completely ignored.
posted by smackfu at 3:06 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing the rational thing would have been to only ban them after a plane left a smoking hole in the ground ?

Oh, it would be nice if that were automatic, btw. I work for an agency that has spent the past few years trying to get a new regulation approved that already has a couple of destroyed planes behind it (and an ever-growing list [pdf] of less-severe incidents), but as a matter of fact it is a chore and a half to get anything through OMB now.
posted by psoas at 3:51 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd like to add that if you're worried about threats to commercial aviation, GPS jamming from some adversary on the ground is way less theoretical a risk. Outright jamming, where GPS simply fails in the aircraft, happens with some regularity near airports now. Commercial aircraft have other means of navigation but the trend is towards relying more on GPS. GPS spoofing where the GPS appears to be working but is lying about position has also been demonstrated many times now. That's much more dangerous and could potentially cause a pilot to fly an airplane into a mountainside.

GPS tampering is a completely different issue from PEDs, but I'm really curious how FAA plans to address it.
posted by Nelson at 3:53 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting quote from an old friend of mine who's like an actual professor of airplanes and stuff
“Prior to the existence of handheld devices like smart phones and other personal electronic devices (PEDs), there were portable AM and FM radios, even portable televisions,” says Prof. Tim Wilson, chair of Electrical Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“The signal processing in those devices,” he says, “emits radio-frequency signals which (1) could be in the band used by aircraft communication and navigation devices, and (2) even if out of the bands used by communication and navigation devices, would appear to those communication and navigation devices as noise.”
I never thought about old analog radio before. A popular old pilot trick is to use the obsolete ADF navigation instrument to tune in AM radio broadcasts. Doubles as casual navigation, you can tell where you are in part based on what stations you can hear.
posted by Nelson at 5:23 PM on October 31, 2013


If avionics systems really were vulnerable to mW of EM radiation from passenger electronics, I'd be terrified to fly.

Because the amount of EM radiation a plane is exposed to in a normal flight dwarfs that. You've cosmic and solar radiation for starters, ground-based radar, even inducted current in the plane itself from flying through the earth's magnetic field - and the real biggie; TV and radio.

Wifi signals and the like absolutely pale into insignificance compared to the giant metal tower antennas we use for TV broadcasting; they're right next door, frequency wise, and if that huge amount of EM radiation hasn't been causing planes to drop out of the skies from confused instruments for the last 80 years, then adding a few mW per passenger ain't gonna make much difference.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:37 PM on October 31, 2013


I hate takeoffs. It's the part of the flight that I do get scared, and I need something to distract me, so this is good news.
posted by zardoz at 6:40 PM on October 31, 2013


I've been told by a bunch of carriers that they have a policies of about 1 lb/500 kg for devices allowed to be stored in the seat backs.

This seems fair. I can't imagine I would ever need to cram much more than 500 kg into the seat back.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:00 PM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wifi signals and the like absolutely pale into insignificance compared to the giant metal tower antennas we use for TV broadcasting; they're right next door, frequency wise, and if that huge amount of EM radiation hasn't been causing planes to drop out of the skies from confused instruments for the last 80 years, then adding a few mW per passenger ain't gonna make much difference.

Yet another person speaking with authority unencumbered by knowledge of the inverse square law. And of such things as local oscillator interference, demodulation, heterodyning, antennas, susceptibility and the radio spectrum, among many others.
posted by JackFlash at 8:05 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Noise Figure
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:01 PM on October 31, 2013


Yet another person speaking with authority unencumbered by knowledge of the inverse square law.

Quite aware of the inverse square law, thank you. There have been numerous studies of wifi field strength for safety reasons - note, that's from local wifi base stations, not receiver devices, which broadcast at considerably lower levels with smaller antennas.

They all find that wifi field strength measured next to users at 1M using active devices are tiny, and almost invariably lower than other sources of EM radiation, including cell towers and TV stations. And that's in active use in an intentional wifi environment. Broadcast field strength from devices not in use is barely measurable.

e.g.:
In nearly all cases these signals were also considerably lower than those from other nearby sources of RF energy, including cellular telephone base stations.
You know one thing I didn't add? The microwave oven that they use to zap your lunch leaks a hell of a lot more into the cabin in the 2.4Ghz range than any handheld device that meets regs ever will - that's why they left it as free spectrum after all, it's so dirty that no-one wanted it.

Making active cell phone calls will spike local RF, I'll grant you - but those are still banned, for various other good reasons. And such a spike will still be low in the cockpit, due to, well, the inverse square law.

So instead of being a condescending prick, perhaps feel free to share your expert knowledge of how airplane electronics are suddenly much more vulnerable to local wifi standby signals from a kindle, when in the airplane there's already a higher field density of other EM radiation from cellphone towers near the airfield, TV stations, microwave ovens in use in the terminal and other things, and that's been the case for a number of years. That EM noise will be on a pretty wide spectrum with a lot of peaks, as you'd know if you'd ever looked at a RF survey meter. And given they're already exposed to a wide range of RF noise, which is inevitable given the nature of RF band leakage and heterodyning from existing ground transmitters, as well as the intentional signal in key bands like cell towers and 2.4Ghz, how they're going to be much more vulnerable to additional weak signals in those same well known bands, i.e. cellphones and wifi from PED?
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:54 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


For instance, if you take Spirit Airlines, the answer is "NO" because "FUCK YOU" is why.

Ah, so you've flown with RyanAir as well...
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 4:00 AM on November 1, 2013


I think the whole thing is silly because of how many devices were surely on and transmitting in people's bags, and completely ignored.

What is the safety margin? Will the safety margin change when it becomes legal to use lots of devices, and many more people use them on a plane simultaneously (the "multiple equipment factor")? What is the safety margin if 300 people are using PEDs?

Do you know whether there can be new effects caused by the combination of otherwise safe devices? (Yes: "It was demonstrated that GPS- and DME-band emissions occur, due to intermodulation between GSM and other wireless handset types, when the handsets were placed in close proximity to one another. It was identified that other combinations of common passenger transmitters could potentially produce intermodulation products in aircraft communication and navigation radio-frequency bands.")

Is it worth doing research to see if you still have a positive positive safety margin in these scenarios, or is that a silly idea?

It's just not that hard to find multiple studies demonstrating potential interference issues between PEDs and aircraft systems.

(If you're interested in the terrorism angle, this study from NASA addresses that a bit: http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20050232846_2005233838.pdf)
posted by jjwiseman at 12:58 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, Amazon's taking 15% the Kindle today, with code ThnksFAA.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:43 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Flew United on Monday; they definitely were still demanding that everyone (pretend to) turn their devices off for takeoff/landing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:17 PM on November 5, 2013


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