The end of flight mode?

February 22nd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Economist reports:

CLAIRE MCCASKILL, a Democratic senator from Missouri, is perhaps best known for beating Todd Akin, a Republican with a bizarre theory about pregnancy and rape, at the 2012 election. That may soon change. If Ms McCaskill succeeds in her latest quest, she stands a chance of becoming a patron saint of business travellers for getting the ban on using in-flight portable electronic devices lifted.

Ms McCaskill, a member of the Senate’s transportation committee, is fed up with the slow pace of change at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). She has warned the agency in a letter that she is “prepared to pursue legislative solutions should progress be made too slowly” on allowing the use of electronic devices throughout a flight. The FAA, which has given various evasive explanations for the ban, is under the jurisdiction of the committee and so has reason to take this seriously.

There is no evidence that electronic devices such as phones and iPads cause a problem on aeroplanes. If there were, they would be banned on board. In any case, many people leave their phones on, or simply defy the rules. According to a recent survey cited in The Week,around 40% of passengers said they never turn off their phones during a flight, and a small number knowingly break the regulations by using their phones to talk or text.

The restrictions are silly. There is no technical necessity to switch an iPad off during take off, or even to have it in flight mode during the trip.

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42 Responses to “The end of flight mode?”

  1. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    Can’t help myself: Bluetooth on an Airbus :D

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  2. OTGO (510 comments) says:

    And furthermore the ban on cell phones even extends to the Sydney immigration hall where despite being in a queue for 20 mins I got warned that I might be fined AUD200.00 for texting the person waiting outside for me.

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  3. woodburner (27 comments) says:

    I was told that the switch-off for takeoff is mainly so that people listen to the safety briefings, and the switch-off on the tarmac is so people watch where they are walking

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  4. libertyscott (356 comments) says:

    There is an issue with small turboprops and mobile phones, but Ipads are not an issue. Indeed, more than a few airlines are using them for staff to access passenger details, and for IFE supplied by the airline.

    I was on an Air NZ link domestic flight when the pilot told passengers that someone had one left on, and it was causing interference to the communications system. The Economist is good, but generalisations when the FAA is primarily concerned with jetliners are inappropriate. Airbus and Boeing are one thing, Beech 1900s and Q300s are another.

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  5. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    OTGO – After LAX and JFK, SYD has the most anal immigration officers and waiting rules. I hate travelling through these airports.

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  6. Tookinator (204 comments) says:

    And of course smoking on a plane is now a hazard, though it wasn’t for the 20 years previous….

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  7. JeffW (320 comments) says:

    Yes but there is a huge issue with being forced to listen to someone else’s inane conversation. I will gladly pay extra to ensure I do not have to listen to others’ phone calls. It will be a sad day when sleep, which is difficult enough on planes, is interrupted by your neighbour’s phone.

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  8. Lance (2,442 comments) says:

    KK is right.
    Sydney airport sucks.
    Usually compulsory shoes, belt off etc with hundreds of people coming through and one or two small tables to put your stuff back on.
    I suspect they take sick delight in making people look like fools.

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  9. Lance (2,442 comments) says:

    @tookinator
    smoking always was a hazard but it was too prevalent so it was tolerated.
    A bit like toasters… exposed mains potential metal with a wide opening, not too many other appliances are allowed to do that.

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  10. dime (9,392 comments) says:

    libertyscott – i call bullshit.

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  11. OTGO (510 comments) says:

    kk – always nice to come back into NZ where you are often told it is safe to turn your phone on while taxiing to the gate and the immigration people are nice and welcoming. Makes me glad I’m home.
    OTOH had a run in with a parking nazi at BSN airport last month because the front bumper of the car picking me up was over the hatched no parking markings. Told me if I didn’t improve my attitude he’d write me a ticket. Well you do tend to get an attitude when he saunters over with a ticketing machine that can take pictures of you and makes out he is doing just that. What a welcome to Australia!

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  12. wally (61 comments) says:

    Getting off thread I know but have to agree re Sydney airport.
    Long queues for immigration. Last 2 times e passport readers not working. Baggage takes ages and so does customs queue. And they’re all surly.

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  13. RRM (9,435 comments) says:

    As a veteran of one or two “exciting” landings over the years, when it comes to operational matters I’m in favour of giving the pilots and the aviation technical people anything they ask for.

    I find it little short of miraculous that so many heavy aircraft make so many successful landings every day…

    LOOK at this! Just look at it. It’s nuts. Incredible what people can do.
    http://aviationhumor.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Rough_landing.jpg

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  14. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    Life was so simple in the 1900s. You poor babies, being deprived of your toys for a few minutes. How will the world survive with you not having your instant communication.

    My God, what would happen if you couldn’t tell someone “I’m just putting on my seatbelt now”.

    FFS.

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  15. tas (591 comments) says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phones_on_aircraft

    The reason you are not allowed to use mobile phones near security or customs is because they are afraid you will use it to record them being assholes. This can be embarassing (e.g. the video gets posted online) or could get the TSA in legal trouble (e.g. they take their authority too far). I’ve seen signs that say ‘no recording devices’, rather than ‘no phones.’

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  16. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    OTGO – I assume by BSN you mean BNE. And most people in Queensland have a problem with Brisbane airport, but it’s getting better. Even the airlines have a problem with it, since the cheeky buggers want them to pay six years in advance for the second runway.
    I usually have no problems getting through immigration in Australia thanks to Fastgate, but there is often a queue at quarantine. It’s particularly bad coming into Brisbane on the morning Virgin flight from Wellington (the one I’m usually on) since there’s an Air China flight that lands before it, and if that flight is late (or Virgin is early) then you end up getting caught with a bunch of Chinese who don’t speak English well and are a proportion of whom are invariably trying to get food through.

    And you ALWAYS get stuck in a queue for quarantine coming into New Zealand. It would be a lot easier if the departing airport could send through the x-rays of all the bags to customs at the arriving airport, so that customs officers could analyse the images while the plane is on its way. Then when you get to New Zealand and pick up your bag, you could just scan your ticket and get through a lot quicker if your bags aren’t a risk. That, or Wellington Airport could get another couple of X-Ray machines.

    As for no phones while taxiing, that’s only the case when you are getting off the plane and walking over the tarmac. If you’re going to be using an airbridge you can use them at every major airport in Australia. Except Newcastle and Coolangatta since they don’t have airbridges.

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  17. gazzmaniac (2,317 comments) says:

    Also, more on topic, I support no cellphones on flights. I couldn’t give a fuck about people like DPF who want to run their business when they’re in transit, I’d rather use the time to rest.

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  18. cha (3,779 comments) says:

    My brother the 737 skipper tells me that touch screens rule on the flight deck, paper has all but disappeared and an i-Pad is used for all flight manuals, plans, loading schedules, logs and documentation.

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  19. Pauleastbay (5,035 comments) says:

    I hope mobiles are banned forever on planes. its bad enough flying without some drongo blathering on about this and that at the to p of their voice

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  20. kowtow (7,591 comments) says:

    Yep,doesn’t matter what the actual story is ,but they’ll always manage to get a dig in at the “rednecks”.

    It’s a not too subtle form of discrimination.

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  21. davidp (3,540 comments) says:

    RRM>I find it little short of miraculous that so many heavy aircraft make so many successful landings every day…

    Then you might enjoy the book QF32 by the pilot of the Qantas A380 that tried to shred itself flying home from Singapore, Richard Champion de Crespigny. The lesson I took from the book is that large aircraft are constantly on the edge of falling out of the sky. Yet they’re engineered in such a way that there can be dozens of major failures and a competent crew can land the aircraft safely.

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  22. lastmanstanding (1,204 comments) says:

    I have mixed feelings. Whilst I am appalled at the self serving officious lot that make life hard at secruity and wont let people use phones on the other hand it is nice at times to be able to have a peaceful flight without the self important next to you or in front or behind yelling instructions down their cell phone at their poor staff or doing the multi million dollar deal so you and the rest of the plane can hear them.

    Back in the 1970s when I first started travelling there were smoker and non smokers sections on the planes with a curtain between them. However as a life long non smoker unless you got a seat as far a way as possible you still got the wiff of tobacco.

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  23. cha (3,779 comments) says:

    I find it little short of miraculous that so many heavy aircraft make so many successful landings every day…

    Cat III autoland.

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  24. RRM (9,435 comments) says:

    davidp – thanks, I’ll definitely look that one up!

    I remember when the Air NZ A320 crashed in France, and everyone on here had figured out that there was “obviously” something completely wrong with these new-fangled computerized aircraft. It was quite funny…

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  25. lazza (358 comments) says:

    DPF are you sure? If you are sure then please reference the credible evidence in plain English terms that substantiates the position that: “There is no danger of interference to airways navigation or other air or ground electronic equipment (and therefore a potential hazard to public safety) of cell phone-sourced interference from their operation or from their in-service (ON) status while airborne … in the same (or for that matter … other) aircraft.

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  26. Spoon (101 comments) says:

    I’ve had half a dozen AirNZ flights in the last couple of weeks, and one thing that struck me is how they blatantly lie to us. You have to turn off all electronic devices as “they may interfere with aircraft systems”. Bullshit! Tell us to turn them off because that’s a CAA rule, but don’t make stuff up to give the perception of a real danger. Isn’t there some law against blatantly lying to people?

    I like the idea of phones being banned (would be great fun sitting beside one of those people who feel they have to shout at the phone), but not being able to read a Kindle during takeoff is stupid.

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  27. R3 (3 comments) says:

    David, sorry to spoil the party but there is a very sound technical reason for the restrictions. I’ve done work in this area and the risks are real.

    Anything with electronics gives off electromagnetic radiation (EMR) and the levels can be quite high. In the early days of gameboys and the like there were several documeted cases of these devices casuing problems for navigational equipment on aircraft. Through appropriate design of both the device itself and the aircraft’s internal cabling (which acts like a big antenna) the risks can be minimised. However they cannot be reduced to zero.

    The bigger risk is transmitting devices like cellphones, handheld radios and ipads which deliberately pump out high levels if EMR in order to connect to a network. When you’re in the sky youre a long way from the cellsites so the phone pumps out EMR at max power. At the same time the navaids that guide the arcraft have a relatively weak incoming signal strength so the cellphones create a risk of interference – especially when you may have a couple of hundred of them all turned on at once. I’ve read case studies where a single handheld radio has caused autopilots to disengage and interfere with other controls.

    Air NZ’s airbuses allow calling etc becasue they have a localised micro site in the plane which allows the phones to operate at a very low level of power, greatly reducing the risk of interference.

    It may be the case that both modern phones and modern aircraft are designed well enough that the risk is sufficiently low, and a rule change is possible. But it is not correct to say there is no technical reason.

    Speaking for myself, having all these devices turned off for the critical phases iof flight (take-off and landing) is entirely appropriate.

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  28. marcw (223 comments) says:

    Thank you R3, my thoughts exactly. And also, I don’t want to be sitting next to the prats in cattle class shouting on their cell phone less than 30cm from my head for one and a half hours thanks.

    Also, FYI, they don’t turn down the lights on takeoff and landings to save power either – it’s so that if there is an emergency you don’t take vital seconds to adjust to sudden darkness.

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  29. Tookinator (204 comments) says:

    @Lance

    “smoking always was a hazard but it was too prevalent so it was tolerated.
    A bit like toasters… exposed mains potential metal with a wide opening, not too many other appliances are allowed to do that.”

    I’ve never heard of a plane crashing or similar due to a passenger smoking…
    Never tried taking a toaster on board a plane…
    Planes i’ve been on recently have a phone built into every passenger seat, are these safer? What if all 300 pax tried to phone at the same time on one of the seat installed phones – how many megawatts would that be outputting?

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  30. R3 (3 comments) says:

    @Tookinator

    Zero megawtts on that one. The phones are hard wired in (not wireless), and they have to pass a strict electrical compatibility safety test before theyre allowed in the plane anyway, like all other electrical equipment.

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  31. lazza (358 comments) says:

    Thought so R3, thanks. Soooo what is it to be? … liberty for all (fixated libertarian ideological-principles) with continued in flight use of cells? and to hell with the (outside chance?) consequences … OR turn off, play it risk averse and never run the slightest chance of being held responsible for an airliner crashing … Note: with you and yours aboard!. A No Brainer for moi? … youall?

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  32. slijmbal (1,210 comments) says:

    @R3 – I call bollocks

    the wiring in planes is deliberately lower tech and thus rather robust – even the modern planes have miles of wiring done in a manner that your local electrician would understand.

    As the signal drops by the square of the distance from the device and the signal is relatively weak then perhaps if one held the phone next to the device it might interfere. Have you even noticed that the old beep, beep, beep from speakers no longer occur – speakers are by definition one of the more sensitive electronic devices around.

    I co-incidentally worked on a computing project with a visiting professor who worked on the likes of the computing and electronics on Boeing planes. We got in to a conversation on this very same matter over a beer as I was curious as I fly a lot, have a degree in physics, work in computing and thought the ban was total nonsense. He entirely agreed – if there was the slightest chance that an accidentally left on mobile device or devices could bring down or even interfere with a plane then the airlines would be seen as completely culpable as it is an entirely predictable occurrence. They have done many tests and never seen anything to date. They would use detection devices as it is reasonably easy to see whether a device is emitting EMR with a $500 detector.

    The average plane takes off and lands with several devices still on and strangely enough does not fall from the sky. This is utter and complete rubbish with no scientific basis.

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  33. RRM (9,435 comments) says:

    Lazza – considering most commercial flights are faultless, except for the very occasional mishap where everyone dies, I’d have to say i think jet aircraft and risk-aversion go together really well!

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  34. slijmbal (1,210 comments) says:

    Forgot to add that if the door to the pilots’ cabin is closed, as it now is for security reasons, then the shell of the plane works as a pretty effective Faraday cage to prevent EMR getting in to the cabin

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  35. George Patton (347 comments) says:

    Jesus no – I’d hate to be on a plane with someone who is so fucking self-centred they chat through the flight talking shit into outer space about Sheryl and Beryl or how they are developing some coastal land with other peoples money.

    Please – leave the phones off, or have a “phone free section” that coincides with the nice and more roomier seats up the front.

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  36. LeftPilot (63 comments) says:

    Passengers are the worst, that’s why I am quite happy about the prospect of going to a cargo airline (although there is still the Lithium battery issue that scares the bejesus out of me).

    R3 is of course very right.

    Where there has been loosening of the regulations it has been under quite strict conditions. iPad and Tablet use is becoming more and more frequent on flight decks. The whole reason flying in general is as immensely safe as it is today is because of the regulations and everyone working within a system. There are numerous examples of insufficient regulations and oversight that have lead to accidents, like Lockhart River in Queensland and a spate of accidents in Canada prior to 2011. Where I work presently death is an all too frequent occurrence and so much of that death has come down to poor regulatory oversight and regulatory non-compliance.

    The Air NZ link pilot would have been able to tell a phone was transmitting due to the interference that can be heard over the RT headsets. Sometimes it can be so bad you can’t actually hear radio transmissions.

    It would be exceptionally sad if the dit-dit-dit-dits of a cell phone interrupted an important Air Traffic Control instruction and lead to an accident.

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  37. Johnboy (14,911 comments) says:

    Pedestrians using cellphones is far more of a health hazard than sardines in people tubes.

    Still it’s nice to see that those wonderful pilot folks that we all trust so much in every poll taken can still have a wank over pissing off the stupidly self-important phone waving nobodies!! :) :)

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  38. LeftPilot (63 comments) says:

    What’s it got to do with trust?

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  39. Johnboy (14,911 comments) says:

    No idea old chap. When I aviated no sane bastard would trust me.

    It’s just that tossers that drive planes rank right up there with firemen in all the polls! :)

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  40. Redbaiter (7,560 comments) says:

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jgs-zawExcQ&w=560&h=315

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  41. Johnboy (14,911 comments) says:

    LeftPilot is an aviator Red. I wish you would stop sticking pins in his balloon. :)

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  42. Johnboy (14,911 comments) says:

    It has of course been known for years that telcom providers hate you activating multiple sites and the airlines are keen to gain extra income from providing “A Service”.

    If aircraft navigational equipment was fucked by a few milliwatts from a handheld phone how would a plane survive flying into range of all the RF shit round a major city.

    Some people are just thick and gullible! :)

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