F.A.A. taking ‘fresh look’ at passenger use of iPad, devices use during takeoff and landing

“Anyone who’s ever flown is familiar with the ‘please turn off all electronic devices’ speech that flight attendants give after closing the airplane door and again shortly before landing,” Ryan Faas reports for Cult of Mac.

“The ban on electronic devices of all kinds exists out of fear that devices might interfere with the planes navigation and other systems, even if the device doesn’t include any sort of radio antenna,” Faas reports. “The ban on electronic devices has come under fire recently as the F.A.A. has been certifying the use of iPads in the cockpit during all phases of flight (including takeoff and landing) by various commercial airlines as a replacement for hefty ‘flight bags’ of paper manuals and charts.”

Faas reports, “In a move that will music to the ears of Words With Friends addict Alec Baldwin, the agency is looking at allowing the use of electronic devices by passengers during takeoff and landing… It’s also worth noting that the agency also has no plans to include smartphones in any policy or rule changes, most likely because of the longer range antennas and/or the sheer volume of devices that would need to be tested.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: It’s a load of crap rule as anyone who’s ever flown knows. On any given flight, multiple people with iOS and other devices never turn them off (likely, some of these people don’t even know how to really turn their iOS devices off) or never even put them to sleep. They certainly don’t put them into “Airplane Mode,” either. Their Wi-Fi is on all flight long and most of the time there are at least three personal hotspots bouncing all throughout the plane, too. The fact is – we see it almost every flight – some people simply hide them from the flight attendants and continue to use them during takeoff and/or landing and, guess what, we’re still here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Dan K.” for the heads up.]


  1. While its always good to err on the side of safety, these rules have been moronic for ages. If a passenger can bring an electronic device on a plane that would “actually” interfere with the operation of the airplane, then there is something wrong with design of the devices on the plane, no personal gadget with potential extremely rare exceptions should have any impact on flight instruments.

    1. I concur that the design of the big flying thing should be redesigned to shield sensitive instruments from any interference at all. I have little doubt that it is doable. I would agree, however, that passengers should be alert and have no headphones on during take off and landing in order to TRY to hear the announcements.

      Unfortunately, I have found the sound systems on most planes so bad that I can’t make out what most of them are saying anyway…even if they slow down from their race through their script.

      I flew Alaska Airlines a few years ago not long after one of their planes crashed. The cabin attendants were clearly taking safety seriously. Their announcements were slow and serious and we understood why. No longer though. As with other airlines, they have again fallen into lacksadaisical rote reciting of their memorized script, not for real safety, but just so they can say they met their requirements. So, if we keep our headphones off during take off and landing (which I would support), there had better be something we can hear, understand, and that actually deals with our safety.

  2. The takeoff/landing ban is nothing to do with errant signals. The main worry is that people might be too distracted by their iPad etc. to act quickly if the pilot has to do something unexpected, but it’s easier to tell people that the signals are an issue because they’re more used to being told that.

  3. I work in the airline industry and hear about this issue all the time. The main concern is not what happens to airplane communications/sensors when a handful of devices are active (those hiding their devices or just not turning them off), but what happens when all 100+ passengers have a device running that is emitting RF signals.

    I have no first hand knowledge of what tests have been done or their results. I have just heard second or third hand that some tests have been performed and some signal interference was determined to actually exist. That is all I know.

    1. If nobody outside the FAA knows, or is permitted to know, what testing has been done (much less the results of those tests), then it’s accurate to describe the FAA’s actions as “secret”. Any policy that inconveniences millions of people daily for secret reasons is suspect.

      1. I certainly don’t disagree with that. If it’s true, publish the finding of the study or STFU.

        Also, there is the point Dave H and others raised about passengers not being able to act quickly during a flight issue on landing or take-off because they aren’t paying attention. But let’s not hide the real reason to turn off the devices with false information (if it is false).

        1. That’s bullsh1t too.

          Name me a flight where even small disturbances go unnoticed. Besides, It won’t make a god damn difference if you are at attention or blasting celine dion as you ride that tin can flying into the ground at 600+MPH and exploding into a fireball. If the plane is going through an emergency landing and you aren’t aware of it, I have news for you. an iPad being a distraction isn’t your biggest problem.

  4. The article is a bit misguided as to the reasoning behind the ban on personal electronics. While the fear of interference was no doubt a factor, the main reason was keeping people’s attention during the critical phases of flight.
    Almost all incidents and accidents occur during taxi, takeoff, landing, and the few minutes in the air before or after those phases. As such, the flight crew needs to be sure to have the ability to quickly get people’s attention to give safety instructions in the event of an emergency situation. That can’t happen if the majority of passengers have headphones in. Seconds count in a crisis.

    1. So we can only read dull books and magazines that don’t distract us? No pot-boilers, no porn, no great novels – way too distracting.

      And no falling asleep! (Unless you take your headphones off.)

      1. I would support it being changed to just no head phones for ground through 5,000′ AGL. (It’s 10,000′ now). That seems like it should be enough to make sure that everyone that can hear is able to hear the flight crew.

        That said, I sure hope they keep the cell phone ban. Apart from the other reasons they are just really annoying in a closed space.

    2. I think it’s critical that the flight crew not be distracted. I don’t think the passengers, aka sheep, matter too, too much in the process of taxiing, landing or takeoff. If there’s an emergency, I think those people with headphones will take them off faster than you can imagine.

    3. The issue of passenger’s attention is interesting. On flights by JetBlue and Virgin America, video and audio content is available during taxi and takeoff in the seat-back systems. They only pause/mute them when they need to make announcements. Otherwise, they are on all the time.

      As far as passengers reacting quickly, most of the time, there isn’t anything they can do about what’s happening. They are along for the ride. Once the plane hits something (ground, water, etc.) then you can do something. If everyone around you suddenly braces themselves, I think you’d get the message, headphones in or not.

  5. Good point Rex. All theses who say there is no danger must be the same experts I see every day texting and talking on phones while driving. They lnow everything, there is nothing to anything others say. They are better than regular law abiding folks.

  6. I know I’ve done it before where I can just click on the button on my headphones and turn my music (or podcast) on or off, and none of the flight attendants would be any the wiser. And it didn’t seem to affect the performance of the plane any. So I think smartphones (as long as they’re in airplane mode) can operate safely during takeoff and landing, and would make for a more pleasant passenger experience. 🙂

  7. Such nonsense. I was asked to turn off my digital camera because it was an “electronic device”.

    Aside from make believe potential catastrophic events (I’ve spoken with 2 pilots about this…they concur the FAA’s mandate is nonsense), turn on your iPad or iPhone while on the Gate or tarmac (requires Verizon or ATT cellular connection), Open Google maps. Make the perspective quite wide. Soon a locator indicator will appear. After takeoff, once above the cellular network range, shut off the cellular connection. Here, the location indicator remains active. Now you can track the airplanes progress to your destination (yes you can zoom in/out). I tracked the plane’s progress over the Southwest (really helpful for identifying the landscape below) and into O’Hare. Warning: do not shut off the iPad or iPhone. If you do, you’ll lose your signal connection for the rest of the flight.

  8. How many instances have there ever been, in history, of a normal consumer’s electronic device causing any problems with a flight? Real world, not lab tests.

  9. Always remember, when there are rules that affect consumers indirectly through the businesses they use or products they buy, it is because of CYA: the business is trying to avoid getting sued b/o something they did or didn’t do, no matter how remotely it could actually cause a problem.

    From “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs: … in one respect at least the Martians are a happy people; they have no lawyers.”

  10. As a person that has flown in many aircraft, military and civil, since the ‘70s, I can vouch that small electronic devices DO affect aircraft instrumentation, particularly on older aircraft and particular when activated from within the hull of the aircraft. Aircraft were and still are designed to keep errant signals from OUTSIDE the aircraft from affecting internal instrumentation and electronics. It was assumed that operators of the aircraft knew enough not to activate transmitting devices from inside the aircraft; which is why the antenna’s for transmit and receive are outside the aircraft hull! Hand-held, two-way radios were not permitted to transmit inside the aircraft while the aircraft is in motion because it was proven that flight instrumentation would give erroneous information; altitude, airspeed, fuel flow, ECM signal monitors and more. It hasn’t been until recently that aircraft have been designed with internal two-way radio frequency hardening in mind; not since wi-fi and cell phone use became ubiquitous! So, until every aircraft has been modified to withstand INTERNAL transmissions, if you hear the pilot tell you to turn off ALL electronic devices, he probably knows more about the capabilities and interference parameters of his aircraft than you do. After all, he or she doesn’t want to go down in flames any more than you do!

    1. Gunner, with respect for your aviation experience, I can only say that I used to use (with the flight crew’s permission) my 5w amateur 2m handheld radio on Air California flights between San Jose and Orange County – and this was on older-model 737 aircraft, which were certainly not internally RF-proofed with cell phones in mind (portable cellphones being a rarity at the time). Given that the flight crew knew about my radio, one would think that if there had been ANY untoward effect that they would have immediately directed me to get off the air – but they never did. And, btw, 5w is about 50 TIMES the signal strength of 802.11, and about 500 TIMES the field strength of a receiver such as a GPS.

      While I do not doubt the flight expertise of a professional pilot, I believe that these regulations are primarily derived from commendable caution, and that it’s a good thing that the FAA is now re-examining them to see if they’re overkill. –de AA6MH

  11. As for ‘any electronic device’ such as cameras — no flight attendant can determine which electronic devices out of the thousands of electronic devices do or do not contain transmission elements that MIGHT interfere, thus they order ALL electronics device off during the critical phases of taxi, takeoff and landing so that the pilots will have accurate instrumentation. Consider what would happen if the altimeter reads a thousand feet higher than actual, or reads fifty knots faster than actual, or shows pitch as level when it’s not. Don’t think it doesn’t happen. I’ve seen it, and I’ve seen it on military aircraft that were hardened against all sort of interfering signals, from the outside! So, next time you fly, consider that person fiddling with an electronic transmission device as a possible terrorist attempting to surreptitiously interfere with the flight system of the aircraft. I, for one, speak up and speak loudly when I see some idiot refusing to heed the pilot’s advisory.

    1. And that’s why you never get laid.

      And gunner baby, if that was true those situations would happen every single day on pretty much every flight- especially the ones I am on. Because I listen to my iPhone the whole way to the gate. It’s awesome. And never once was there an emergency, or the pilot being concerned. nothing. and I do this on all manner of planes all over the world.

  12. The vision of thin iPads flying through the air when the pilot has to break very hard really really exciites me. Whether it is on or off, electronic devices, bags, purses, etc, are required to be stowed under the seat during takeoffs and landings.

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