Articles published in the Richland County Bar Association's Richbar News

Flight Risk

December 4, 2013Richbar News Articles

Have you heard about the FAA’s recent decision to allow the use of “Personal Electronic Devices” during all “flight phases?”  It’s true. Used to be that we had to wait until we were “safely cruising.” Now we can use our iPhones, Androids, Kindles, Nooks, and Laptops (simultaneously even) during takeoff and landing.

Whether or not you welcome this new rule likely depends on what kind of traveler you are.  For me (and I suspect a lot of you) traveling is like driving — when we climb into that seat, our personality changes.

In everyday life, I enjoy talking to people at the gym, in line at Publix, or basically anywhere that doesn’t have the letters “DMV” in the title.  I get this from my mom who, after a five  minute chat with you in the grocery checkout line, will know your blood type, shoe size and SAT scores.

In my “traveling life” though, I become a different person. I hate talking to people on planes.  One reason is that once you start, you’re trapped for the entire duration of the flight.  It’s like a bad blind date.  You both know it’s a horror, but you’ve already ordered appetizers and now you have to see it through to the mint-and-check phase.

Another reason I don’t want to talk to people on airplanes is that (let’s face it) TSA still lacks the technology to screen out CRAZY.  I once sat next to a guy on a coast-to-coast flight who used his “Personal Electronic Device” to watch Saw I and Saw II back-to-back.  (Yeah, that kind of crazy).   

Unlike my mom, who would have engaged in conversation with this psychopassenger (“Don’t you think an electric chainsaw could cut through that clavicle more cleanly?”) my wife HATES to talk to people in grocery checkout lines.  Which makes her an absolute magnet for people in such places.  They approach her in the same way that cats,  sensing your allergy, start rubbing against you.  For Christmas I’m buying her a “No, I don’t want to hear about your Pancreatitis” T-Shirt.

When it comes to Air Travel, I’m with my wife. So, to avoid talking to crazy such people, I would board a flight wearing dark sunglasses and headphones.  But then there always came that moment when the flight attendant instructed me to turn off my device.  And it really didn’t matter to her if my Dre Beats headphones were actually plugged into a block of wood.  They had to come off to “prove compliance.”  I could have tried explaining that I was “just pretending to listen to music.”  But who looks crazy then?

Fortunately, all that awkwardness is behind us now.  With the new rule, there’ll be no need for deception.  No more waiting for your co-passenger to pounce conversationally when you take off your headphones.  And no more listening to “Contemporary Urban Hits” from the armrest using the airline headphones that felt like the stethoscope from “My First Doctor Bag.”

Being lawyers, you might rightfully ask “but is it actually safe to use Personal Electronic Devices during take off and landing?”   Well, that debate is still ongoing.  There hasn’t been any determinative study and many pilots and engineers point to incidents where Personal Electronic Devices have interfered with their instruments.  And as reported in the Washington Post, the chair of the FAA technical subcommittee which recommended the change was an Amazon executive. Not exactly neutral.  Both the Association of Flight Attendants and Air Line Pilots Association opposed the change.  So, maybe Personal Electronic Devices are not totally safe for takeoffs and landings.

I therefore recommend a compromise rule to the FAA — allow us to use Personal Electronic Devices on takeoffs but not landings.  This way, you can be assured that the landings will be safe.  And as for takeoffs, you will either a) wear your headphones, avoid conversation, and safely ascend to cruising altitude, or b) wear your headphones, avoid conversation, and be killed instantly when the aircraft turns into a giant fireball.

Either way, better than having to talk to Mr. Saw III.

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