Please turn off your electronics

September 09, 2013

I don't fly much, but last week I was in Austin for orientation at my new job. So, I boarded the plane, sat down, and opened up my Nexus 10 to read. As we took off, I heard a familiar message over the intercom: "Please return your seat tray to the upright position and turn off all your electronics". People generally comply with this rule, and I saw people actually turning their phones off. Call me a rebel, but I didn't follow their directions. I kept my tablet on and continued reading, and when the flight attendant walked by, I simply turned the screen off and pretended to be looking out the window. She walked away, and I cautiously looked around before turning my tablet on again. Repeat this process several times, until at last they were seated and I could read in peace.

Why did I so blatantly disobey the rules? Because this rule is bullshit. The main reason is because people have done tests (you know, like the people who build airplanes) to see if electronics interference actually interferes with airplane equipment. It doesn't. Do you think that if there was any chance that your cell phone could interfere with the plane, they would let you bring phones on board? Nope. Having 3.1 ounces of water is cause for concern, but having a smartphone, tablet, and laptop is not. How do they ensure that your electronics are off, anyway? I could easily have my laptop on, sending a continuous stream of packets, and just turn the screen off and put it in my bag. They wouldn't know.

The ban on all electronics is strange too - does an old iPod nano really have the same signal output as a smartphone? I doubt it. The iPod doesn't have a wifi adapter. It doesn't have a cell receiver. It can't do NFC. It can't do Bluetooth (new ones can). How about a graphing calculator? What if I really needed to get my math homework done? What about a Kindle in airplane mode? WIth the Kindle's e-ink, nothing is really "on", so how would I turn it "off"? The flight attendant will also say that airplane mode isn't allowed. Well, shit. Why is it called airplane mode then? Why not give it a much more descriptive name like, maybe communications off, or signals off? Samsung seems to think that I can have my phone in airplane mode, but the FCC doesn't. Hmm.

So what's the real reason behind this nonsense? One theory is that it's to stop people from talking on their phones, to reduce the noise level so pilots can hear clearly during takeoff and landing. But what do you do with passengers who are talking to each other loudly? The best solution for this would just be to tell everyone to not yell at each other (which is already happening), so in reality, this problem isn't really a problem. Another theory is that nobody is 100% certain that your device won't cause the plane to crash. This makes more sense because if you had a device that could crash planes, then yeah, they wouldn't want you to use that. But again, you could just keep that hidden somewhere and nobody would know.

There is no good reason to turn off your electronics on a plane. It's just another thing that everyone has to deal with to make flying much harder than it should be.