Turn off all electronic devices: does a cell phone really pose a risk to airplanes?

14. ops. Airplane Electronics. Butt
Photo Credit: Leena Butt, The Highlander

I am one of those typical college students who just so happens to come from a city about 400 miles north of Riverside. So, just like many other students also from distant locations, I travel home via airplane about three times per year. The routine to board an airplane has become pretty standard, especially for those who travel by plane quite often: check in, check luggage, receive boarding pass, go through security checkpoint, board the plane, put on seat belt and turn off all electronic devices. It is this last habitual activity that is one of the most confusing things required of any passenger.

Turning off my iPhone is relatively inconvenient because of the ongoing communication with the cyber world. I, like many others, enjoy gluing my eyes to the screen just to check my Facebook and Twitter news feeds. The controversy and even refusal to follow this particular procedure have resulted in passengers being arrested for refusing to turn off their electronics. But according to The New York Times, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not have evidence to prove electronics disrupt airplane activity.

The fear of crashing during a long-distance flight may be just enough to convince passengers that leaving their electronic devices on during takeoff and landing are potentially dangerous and life-threatening. Though airplane safety is the number-one priority of everyone on board, should there be restrictions on playing Words with Friends when ascending into the sky if there is not sufficient evidence to prove doing so will cause the destruction of the aircraft? It was this reason—along with his unruly attitude—that just so happened to get actor Alec Baldwin thrown off his American Airlines flight in 2011, even though the airplane had not taken off yet.

It is understandable why airlines take so many precautions to ensure flight safety, and why passengers often remain cautious while on board. Flying on an airplane can have devastating risks if the proper procedures are not taken. However, the issue of electronic emissions interference only continues to raise problems and controversy on and off board. And nobody is helped when a person believes he is protecting the plane when he threatens somebody pulling out a phone. It seems as if explanations are not needed when it comes to one’s safety because the only concern is simply walking off the plane in one piece.

The obvious solution is for airlines to provide concrete evidence to prove a game of Angry Birds on an iPad will contribute to the obliteration of a Southwest airplane. Funnily enough, pilots are now permitted to use their own iPads during takeoff, rather than using paper maps and manuals to navigate the plane. If pilots are not worried about the possible electronic interference potentially caused by their tablets, why should the passengers also feel concerned? Kevin Bothmann, testing manager of EMT Labs, a consulting firm that tests electrical devices, has even stated, “There is no difference in radio output between two iPads and 200.” If pilots can use iPads, passengers should not feel frightened to use a cell phone or a Kindle while the aircraft is taking off.

Pilots of all people should know what is and what is not safe on board of a flight. If electronics really do cause disturbances for the plane, wouldn’t pilots stick to paper manuals, and use their devices after takeoff and before landing like the rest of the passengers?

Although there is no evidence to prove electronics are 100 percent safe on airplanes, there is still no evidence to decisively prove electronics are not safe. In order to dispel any false information, airlines would have to conduct studies to determine which devices are safe and which are unsafe. However, according to DailyTech.com, the FAA has yet to begin research on this area due to the costs and the amount of testing required. For example, simply testing one model of the iPad is not sufficient. The FAA would have to conduct research on each generation of the iPad in addition to the new iPad mini. And the testing would not stop there.

Despite the discrepancies, airlines have taken the “better safe than sorry” approach to restricting electronic usage during takeoff and landing. Although there are still passengers who do not switch their devices to the “off” position. For example, the author of a Discovery News article openly admits to leaving his cell phone on during takeoff, only placing it on airplane mode. Clearly, he lived to share his experience. He also states that even after years of research, there has yet to be a correlation between plane malfunctions to powered-on devices.

Since people have admitted to leaving their devices on in the airplane during takeoff, placing electronic devices on airplane mode, which simply shuts off their wireless features, should be the simple solution to the mayhem that continues to float around; there is a reason why it was created on cell phones, tablets, and laptops. If passengers can leave their devices on this setting without causing any kind of interference, then passengers should not be told to turn off their electronics on takeoff or landing.

If there comes a time when the FAA provides evidence as to whether electronics cause problems on airlines, clear and concise instructions should be printed for all passengers to read. Similar to the safety procedures for emergencies explained prior to takeoff, more detailed procedures regarding electronics, including the reasons for the dangers of using electronic devices on board, should also be explained by the pilot in order to avoid rebellious acts similar to Baldwin’s. Though it is better to take safer precautions on board, it is not safe to leave passengers in fear of what will happen to the aircraft if one pulls out their cell phone for just a second. Lack of knowledge will not fix the problem. If concrete evidence is not found, passengers will only continue to be kept in the dark instead of being informed about anything and everything that can potentially go wrong during any flight. Perhaps airlines should simply permit its passengers to continue operating their electronics, just as their pilots are allowed to.

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