FAA to Maybe Loosen Electronic Device Restrictions During Takeoff and Landings

Nick Bilton reports that the FAA plans to permit the use of reading devices during takeoff and landing:

According to people who work with an industry working group that the Federal Aviation Administration set up last year to study the use of portable electronics on planes, the agency hopes to announce by the end of this year that it will relax the rules for reading devices during takeoff and landing. The change would not include cellphones.

My first thought was why not cellphones? Perhaps it was due to the cellular radio specific to those devices. But, then Marco Arment takes the restriction to its logical extreme:

Is the Kindle Fire a reading device since it’s named “Kindle”, even though it can do a lot more? Are iPads reading devices? How about an iPad Mini with an LTE radio? I assume iPhones would be prohibited as “cellphones”, but what about iPod Touches?

This silly distinction will only cause problems. Why attempt to confusingly and ineffectively draw that line?

If the distinction is about cellular radios, what about Kindles and iPads with 3G? And if the distinction is to prevent passengers from annoying each other by talking on the phone, does it also prohibit using Skype or FaceTime on a non-“phone” device?

Why call out the use-case of “reading”, specifically? What about gaming devices? Media players? Can I read on a laptop if I don’t use the tray table? If devices with keyboards aren’t allowed, would a Surface Pro be permitted? Are flight attendants prepared to enforce and keep up with these distinctions?

Arment points out that Amazon was one of the companies part of that industry working group counseling the FAA. Arment’s cynical position then, is it’s Amazon pushing for “reading” devices to be permissible since they sell the Kindle.

My guess is that Bilton’s sources are floating this nugget of information to see what the reaction would be and where the FAA needs to draw the line without incurring the wrath of the public. The problem is, the FAA already allows iPads to be used in the cockpits during takeoffs and landings, as well as by flight attendants. Any argument or policy they set for restricting passengers use of these devices as well seems moot.

How difficult is it to require that all passengers put their devices — Kindle, iPad, iPhone, whatever — into airplane mode during takeoff and landing and that be that? You can still use them, but you just have to turn off the wi-fi and cellular radios.

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