Over the last few months we’ve chronicled the series of hints and rumors indicating that the Federal Aviation Administration might remove or relax restrictions on mobile devices in commercial aircraft. Most passengers (including the notorious Alec Baldwin) find it difficult to believe that aircraft technology is so fragile it can be thrown off by a cell phone, and if you look around the cabin you can see the collective eye-roll when the flight attendants repeatedly remind everyone that setting mobile devices to airplane mode just won’t cut it. This is probably why many passengers ignore the warnings altogether.
That’s all about to change. After a year of deliberations that included representatives of the FCC, pilot groups, flight attendant groups, and airline and passenger associations, a report issued by the Aviation Rulemaking Committee issued a report recommending the expanded use of personal electronic devices at all times while in flight. According to the report, interference with aircraft navigational devices has been reported “hundreds” of times, but those reports were anecdotal and established no clear causal link between the use of mobile devices and the alleged problems. Of course, the committee stipulated that the sort of radio communications generated by text-messages, cell phone calls, and WiFi would still be out of bounds; in other words, airplane mode will cut it just fine, thank you very much.
Unfortunately, however, the federal government is closed for business, so the FAA administrators who would have to read and hopefully implement the recommendations in the report are furloughed for the time being. Of all the effects of the shutdown, this is obviously a minor one, but for those of us who travel frequently and are really sick of reading backdated issues of SkyMall between 0 and 10,000 feet, the implementation of the report couldn’t come fast enough.
Of course, if the federal shutdown/showdown continues for another week and a half and the U.S. defaults on its debts, then it may not matter that much, since we’ll all be taking ringside seats at the Thunderdome. So in the interests of being able to play Angry Birds on the tarmac and avoiding global financial apocalypse, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.