Ding! FAA May Roll Back Stupid Restrictions on Electronic Device Use

Good news for the flying, gaming public: The Federal Aviation Administration's bullshit, insulting-to-the-intelligence rules for the use of "approved portable electronic devices" are due to be relaxed, allowing for gate-to-gate use of your iPad, 3DS, Android phone or whatever. This could come as early as September.

That's according to reports by the Wall Street Journal on Friday and the Associated Press yesterday. The journal said a draft report by an advisory committee indicates all 28 of its members have come to a consensus that some of the current rules should be eased. The AP says committee members asked for extra time, to September, to finish evaluating whether it's safe to lift restrictions.

Protip: It is. While I'm not about to make this into a cause for civil disobedience, the hell if I do anything other than put whatever I'm carrying into the seatback pouch. I don't even put it in airplane mode. (I use that when only when I don't want to be interrupted by a call.) Notifications from flight attendants have become increasingly specific and increasingly asinine—we're now up to "Anything with an on-off switch must be completely powered down, not put in airplane mode," as I heard on a flight to Detroit earlier in the year. I did nothing of the sort. When we landed I saw a text message alert from when we were in Canadian airspace, advising me of roaming data charges. Somehow, despite my reckless behavior, the plane did not explode.

I can remember another flight a couple of years ago where the flight attendant insisted that the captain had some kind of monitor in the cockpit telling him there were still a few devices on, which is a lie. But on the off chance it wasn't, then my iPhone probably was one of the culprits. I never did anything, the plane still took off and, miraculously, did not explode.

Now, I'm not crazy about people using cell phone voice service—at all—while the plane is hurtling down the runway or, worse, midair. It's already crazy enough that as soon as the wheels touch down people whip out their phones to tell someone they've landed—never mind it will be another 10 minutes before they're walking through the terminal, and 30 if they have to get bags. Fortunately, that's all up to the Federal Communications Commission. But Boeing itself seems to think that cellular voice is safe enough on a flight; they're outfitting new planes to support the feature if the FCC approves it.

If the FAA wants to enforce restrictions on portable device use that actually do improve the flying experience, I have one big suggestion: Use headphones at all times or mute the device. Do not play any sound over your device's speakers. It blows me away how many people think this OK. It is inconsiderate as hell. If you're flying with someone who wants to watch, too, either share earbuds or tough shit.

I realize this is a very bellicose opinion on a subject that affects a lot of people, not just me, but I have to think attitudes have sharpened on this because of the insulting way we've all been treated, particularly since—I'm gonna say it, sorry—9/11. We already pay for bags, take off our shoes, go through an x-ray peepshow, and comply with all sorts of other unfriendly treatment on the Amtrak of the Sky. At least give us back this.

Practically every argument for why airlines should be trusted when they issue their orders against electronic device use has been shot down. Oh, it's about having your attention? Then why is reading The New York Times on my iPad more of a threat to my safety or others' than the guy next to me reading his much larger physical copy? Even if having your attention during a critical phase of the flight was the purpose—an eminently reasonable request—the reason they never say this is because it'd require everyone to put everything away. Good luck enforcing that.

FAA moving toward easing electronic device use [Associated Press]