FAA (Finally) Eases Restrictions on Gadgets — but You Still Can’t Bring Pool Cues on an Airplane

The overdue policy change can go into effect as soon as airlines are ready. Holiday flights home just got more bearable.

National Journal
Matt Berman and Dustin Volz and Brian Resnick
Oct. 31, 2013, 6:57 a.m.

Re­spond­ing to a fed­er­al ad­vis­ory com­mit­tee re­port is­sued last month, the Fed­er­al Avi­ation Ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Thursday that it “can safely ex­pand pas­sen­ger use of Port­able Elec­tron­ic Devices (PEDs) dur­ing all phases of flight.” FAA Ad­min­is­trat­or Mi­chael Huerta said the agency is already work­ing with air­lines to im­ple­ment the long-stand­ing policy that has drawn ire from fli­ers for dec­ades.

When the over­due changes take place will de­pend on the air­line, but Delta is already out with a press re­lease say­ing that it’ll try to al­low pas­sen­gers to use their gad­gets as soon as to­mor­row.

The FAA policy was based more on cau­tion than hard facts. Ac­cord­ing to The New York Times, the reg­u­la­tions were put in­to place dur­ing the 1950s when FM trans­mit­ters ac­tu­ally could in­ter­fere with com­mu­nic­a­tions. But cur­rent air­craft have more-ad­vanced sys­tems. In 2006, a study found no evid­ence in either dir­ec­tion that con­sumer elec­tron­ics could cause a dis­rup­tion. “There was no evid­ence say­ing these devices can’t in­ter­fere with a plane, and there was no evid­ence say­ing that they can,” a FAA spokes­man told The Times in 2011.  The Times‘ tech colum­nist Nick Bilton has made a bit of a cru­sade of the mat­ter, even com­mis­sion­ing an in­de­pend­ent test of the elec­tric­al emis­sions of a Kindle. They were found to be “minus­cule.”

This is ob­vi­ously great news for Alec Bald­win and oth­er elec­tron­ic-ob­sess­ives. But air­planes aren’t just go­ing to be a free-for-all now that you can read your Kindle dur­ing takeoff. The FAA still pro­hib­its a huge list of items from en­ter­ing the plane. Some are plenty ob­vi­ous, like fire­arms, hand gren­ades and meat cleav­ers. Some are already ob­vi­ously an­noy­ing for fli­ers, such as li­quid re­stric­tions. Oth­ers are just a bit odd. You can’t bring pool cues, crick­et bats, cattle prods, kubat­ons (which are real things), vehicle airbags (???), and cer­tain snow globes (be­cause of the li­quid) on board.

Also, to the people now lament­ing that this will bring the end to the tech-sab­bath refuge of the fu­sel­age — be as­sured not much will really change. People were al­ways al­lowed to use elec­tron­ics after takeoff, and cell phones still can­not be used to make calls in the air. Also, no cit­izen of the civ­il­ized world should ever use elec­tron­ic devices without head­phones on pub­lic trans­port­a­tion. The only dif­fer­ence now is that you can con­tin­ue us­ing your laptop or iPad dur­ing takeoff. So please, at­tempt to work through the some­times start­ling changes in G-forces as the plane ac­cel­er­ates down the run­way.

Al­though, we can all agree that a par­tic­u­larly ne­far­i­ous snow globe poses more of a pub­lic-safety threat than an e-read­er ever did.

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