An Incredibly Astute Rant Regarding Gadgets and Consumer Air Travel

I was recently aboard a consumer airline flight bound for lovely Portland, Oregon. When we took off, they went through the usual spiel about how to operate the seat belts, the locations of the emergency exits and the john, etc. And, of course, we were instructed to turn off any and all electronic devices until we’d crossed the magic threshold of 10,000 feet.

I have a few unoriginal thoughts regarding this rule about the gadgets.

First of all, I never turn mine completely off. Both my iPhone and iPad were in airplane mode for the entire flight, including takeoff. I’m certainly not the only one who ignores this rule (or simply forgets that their device is still powered on), so I think it’s fairly safe to assume that the operation of “everyday” mobile devices doesn’t cause planes to explode during takeoff or drop out of the sky midflight.

Second, the flight attendant, when rattling off the names of devices that should be shut down for example, mentioned the Kindle, specifically. I’ll be honest - I don’t know how to completely power down my Kindle.

I’m assuming they’re interested in the various wireless and cellular data radios being powered off than they are in the devices themselves. It only makes sense. After all, they’re not going to instruct the dude with the pacemaker to switch ‘er off for a few minutes.

I have a theory about all this.

Since they just want the radios off (again, I’m assuming) and don’t actually care about electronic devices that are simply expending electricity, they probably figure it’s just simpler to tell everybody to turn everything off than to try to explain their specific goal to everybody on the plane since many of them are not exactly technically savvy or whatever.

When I tell my daughter not to crawl around on the kitchen counter, I’m actually telling her to not knock over the glass of water that’s right behind her, mess up the stack of papers to her left or break open the dolphin-shaped bottle of Italian apertif that’s just over her right shoulder. But saying all that would take way too long, so it’s easier to just quash the whole myriad of possible catastrophes by simply forbidding her to get anywhere near all that crap. I think the airlines are taking a similar approach, which begs my original question:

What’s the thing that everyday people with normal gadgetry are able to actually do that will endanger the lives of everyone on board? If there’s some possibility-however remote-of one bit of tech turning the whole aircraft into a Tylenol-shaped inferno, why not explicitly forbid the use of that one thing instead of impotently directing all passengers to “put everything with an ‘off’ switch into the ‘off’ position”?

Part of me still gets a little annoyed by the whole airlines-n-gadgets mess since, after all, having my iPhone turned on clearly isn’t interfering with the avionics equipment running the airplane. Perhaps if the plane were packed with network-connected phones and tablets, it’d be a different story, but I’m still somewhat convinced that they’re just being inappropriately paranoid (at best).

I mean, think about it; if a hundred cell phones with data connections were capable of compromising a necessary component of a freaking airplane packed with people, they wouldn’t allow them at all. If I tell my daughter not to climb on the kitchen counter, I have one or more good reasons for doing so. I’m unable to think of what good reasons an airline would have for issuing a similarly broad decree.

Yes, this smells a good deal like a conspiracy theory. Call me crazy.

Obviously, I’m more than willing to be proven wrong here. If somebody knows the basis for this arcane rule, I’d love to hear it.

Photo by zachstern


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