Do Our Portable Electronics Really Interfere with Airplane Safety? Does the FAA Care?

Lightningplaneb A recent article points out that the airlines' ban on having portable transmitters operating in a plane is often being ignored/overlooked by people with Bluetooth headsets.

That is very true, but why stop there?  An increasing number of devices have Wi-Fi transmitters in them too.  Most laptops and tablets now have Wi-Fi built in, and so too do many eBook readers and even some MP3 players (as well as possibly Bluetooth also).

So just about every airplane flight probably has between one and one hundred transmitting devices operating in the passenger cabin, and completely safely.  So why do the airlines ban transmitting devices on flights?

How is it that a plane can be safely struck by bolts of lightning, comprising hundreds of millions of volts and tens of thousands of amps, but if we should turn on our tiny postage stamp sized iPod Nano, we may make the plane suddenly twist out of control and crash and burn?

And what about the so-called FAA requirement that we have to turn everything off before the plane is allowed to push back?  Is this really an FAA requirement?

I've just released a detailed article that attempts to rationally look at the potential risks of using portable electronics on flights, and also investigates what those FAA rules really truly are.  Go have a read. My findings may surprise you.

9 thoughts on “Do Our Portable Electronics Really Interfere with Airplane Safety? Does the FAA Care?”

  1. Having at lest once let my laptop on by accident in a cross-country flight – and no accident ensued.
    And once left my mobile/cell phone on from London to Washington. By accident. No accident ensued.
    It is reminiscent of an underground article that first circulated in the late 60s about the master-slave relationship between students and universities. Can now be applied to passengers and airlines. (The article was by Jerry Farber. Better you look it up than I repeat the title here.) But the idea of “seen and not heard” would be a fair summary.

  2. Yes, quite true. It would behoove you to check out “Tin Whiskers” ( it explains a lot of the seemingly random glitches you write about.
    I was on a recent US Airways flight to Denver and there were 7 deck officers that boarded to dead head back to Denver.
    Everyone of them used their cell “smart” phones the entire flight. The flight attendant went to say something to one of the pilots and he made mention that he was a pilot and the attendant said “Oh” and walked away. Now these phones weren’t in airplane mode as a few of them actually made calls while they were working their emails.
    Ed W.

  3. I was on an United flight from Oakland (maintenance base) to Denver a few years ago on an Airbus, I think 320.
    We pulled out to the runway, came back to the gate and were met by a maintenance crew. They determined one of the on-board computers was acting up, so they had to re-boot the airplane (that was the announcement). In order to do so they shut down the airplaine’s APU and then disconnected the battery for a minute or so to get a hard reset on the on-board computers.
    Gregg M.

  4. As a flight attendant, the turning off devices at take off and landing are about safety. There will be two times we have the option to crash and evacuate….take off and landing.
    Those are the two times I want my passengers at least somewhat paying attention to what happens. If everyone is hooked up, with their devices out, if there is an abandoned take off with gear failure, the last thing I want is computers flying everywhere and no one hearing what the heck just happened. Have someone lose their computer, iPad, Blackberry, etc., their FIRST INSTINCT is to go and retrieve. NOT listening to what is actually going on and following flight attendant directions to evacuate.’
    I have witnessed passengers losing control over devices they are holding upon take off….we’ve hit rough air, or the wake of a big plane in front of us. Yes, a passenger will LEAVE their seat during a steep climb or descent and go after the electronic device instead of staying buckled in.
    Best to have them off and stowed until 10,000 feet.

  5. Hi, Debi
    Thanks for sharing your view of this issue.
    Do you really think that if you sound an alert over the PA system and say ‘Brace! Brace! Brace!’ some people are going to be too busy doing whatever else to respond? And is being engrossed in a good book, or the brilliance of the in-flight magazine, less dangerous than to be reading on a Kindle or working on a spreadsheet?
    If you are concerned about objects flying around in teh cabin, I don’t understand why it is safe/permissible to have a big heavy book in your lap, but not a lightweight tiny Kindle reader?
    And if this is all about flight safety, why don’t you tell us that, rather than make the spurious claim that it is an FAA regulation to do with electronic interference?

  6. ‘Which would you prefer, to have your noise cancelling headphones on, and for the plane to crash and burn; or to take your noise cancelling headphones off and fly safely?’ it seems an easy choice to make.
    Most of the airline magazines state that noise cancelling headphones are ok to use.

  7. Most of the airline magazines state that noise cancelling headphones are okay to use – but only while in cruise flight, not at take off or landing.
    Don’t tell me you haven’t been listening to the flight attendants badger you into ‘turning anything and everything off that has an on/off switch’ – because that surely includes noise cancelling headphones.

  8. Perhaps Debi S or someone else can explain why, after landing, “You may now use your cell phones. All other portable electronic devices must remain off until we are parked at the gate.” Why must all other devices remain off? Is this also to minimize distractions, perhaps to expedite disembarking? It certainly can’t be due to electronic interference!

  9. Pingback: Weekly Roundup Friday 3 June 2011 » The Travel Insider

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