Thursday, December 20, 2012

Shut Down All Electronic Devices...Except E-Readers

It took me a long time to finally give in and get a Nook (or rather accept my dad's hand-me-down), and I must say that I've really taken to it. It's much easier to carry on the train, and I can easily read it in one hand while holding on for dear life with the other on the cta as I commute to and from work each day. The technology makes the screen less like a screen and more like a book, which is certainly appealing considering I stare at a computer all day long. And I definitely love when I finish a book, I can instantly start a new one with the touch of a button. But there is one downfall to this wonderous device: flying.

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Sure, the nook is easy to pack, and I don't have to shove five books into my bag, just in case I finish one on my trip and need another to read. But the benefit of a physical book is that I don't have to stop reading during takeoff and landing. Since e-reader are electronic devices, with an on and off switch, they have to be powered down during those times, and it is beyond frustrating. That's a good forty-five minutes or so of prime reading time taken away. I'm forced to flip through one of the airline magazines or Skymall, glancing at things I'll never buy (or can't afford to buy.)

I get it, I really do. There are regulations that need to be followed. But that doesn't make it any less frustrating.

So imagine how happy I was to hear on NPR this morning that the Federal Aviation Administration is considering allowing passengers to use e-readers during takeoff and landing. A call was put out by Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, urging the FAA to allow the use of portable electronic devices for the "full duration of the flight." She argues that there is no factual evidence that supports that the devices pose any safety issues.

The first question is, why do we need to turn electronic devices off during takeoff and landing? The most common reason is that they might interfere with the aircraft's communication and navigation. In addition, even though some electronic devices may not interfere, flight attendants cannot monitor all the devices on baord, and they cannot determine which ones may or may not interfere with the plane. So it's just easier to shut everything down. So the next question becomes, are e-readers capable of causing communication or navigation problems on planes?

This is what the FAA is investigating. Analysts said there are many different types of devices, as well as many different aircrafts, so the agency has to conduct thorough testing to make sure, so it may take a while to determine if e-readers will be allowed to remain in use. But I don't think it needs to be as complicated as all that. I've already conducted my own test.

The last two flights I took, I continued reading my nook when I wasn't suppose to. I kept it on during takeoff on one flight, and during landing on another. As you see, I'm typing this post right now, so the planes didn't crash. I made it safely to my destinations, and didn't end up somewhere off the grid, so the navigation worked properly. And we even arrived a little early on both flights, so communication seemed to be in tack.

Obviously, my experiences are not enough evidence to convince the FAA, but if I've done this, imagine how many other travelers have, too. As one New York Times blogger mentioned in a column, "if electronic devices could bring down an airplane, you can be sure the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration...wouldn't allow passengers to board a plane with an iPad or Kindle."

Still, the FAA continues to live by a "better-safe-than-sorry" mentality, and will enforce the rules until they sufficiently determine that use of these devices is safe or until the government introduces legislation that will force the agency to act quickly on this.

For now, I'll continue to sigh in irritation, roll my eyes and turn off my nook when asked, just to keep them happy and keep my fellow passengers safe. Unless it's a really good book.

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