Rethinking Electronics in Flight or What’s Airplane Mode?

By | January 26, 2012

Interior of Virgin America A320

A few weeks ago, we commented on the ban on portable electronics. The truth is, in terms of the FAA’s stated rationale, there is little evidence presented that indicates the majority of electronics have any effect on aircraft systems.

But, the other reason, the one not covered by the regulation, is the one that is more of a concern to us, after doing some passenger watching on a recent flight. Flight attendants, who deal with these issues every day, are concerned with the attention of the passengers on safety during takeoff and landing, when the majority of flight related issues seem to arise.

That would explain why, perhaps, to follow that line of reasoning, headphones should be forbidden during takeoff and landing, as they would interfere with hearing inflight instructions.  It may also explain forbidding gaming and mobile devices, to ensure one’s attention is on the situation at hand. However, people read, close their eyes and nap, and on many airlines, engage the built-in IFE.

We knew all this before, however, it became very evident while thinking about it on recent flights. There were three passengers across from us who kept asking, “They want us to turn off our cell phones?”, despite multiple announcements on the PA about this. Then one of them with an iPhone discovered the airplane mode setting in wonder and thought activating that was acceptable.

A particular pet peeve of ours, which we believe has potential to be truly dangerous, passengers getting up when the fasten seatbelt sign is on, indicating it is unsafe to get up. The flight attendants on this, and many flights we have been on, have largely ignored this. We were impressed when on a European flight not long ago, the flight attendant came onto the PA to gently remind people the Fasten Seatbelt sign was on.

So, maybe to rethink these situation. The problem is that we cannot enforce the current rules, be it with Alec Baldwin or with other passengers. Maybe we have to address it from that perspective.

Is the cell phone ban in place not because it is necessary, but because people can’t be trusted to act responsibly? Should the Flight Attendant be policing our behavior onboard and to what degree? If people cannot follow the simple instructions of seat back up, stay in seat when light is on, and turn off your electronics, what hope do we have?