Federal Aviation Administration Might Let You Keep Your Kindle On

There are those who don’t question flight attendants’ requests to shut off all electronic devices during landing and take off, and those who just don’t think a Kindle or iPad is going to disrupt the plane’s systems whatsoever. For the latter, the Federal Aviation Administration is listening — they’re reviewing the ban on personal electronic use on airplanes.

New York Times blogger Nick Bilton decided to call up the FAA and ask if they might consider changing their rules regarding certain devices. And turns out, they’ve decided to look into the matter.

Bilton called armed with research that suggests digital reading devices wouldn’t do a thing to a plane, and Laura J. Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs for the F.A.A., said that they’ve decided to take a “fresh look” at the use of personal electronics on planes.

That would mean no more stuffing a few books or magazines in your carry on just to have something to do during taxi, takeoff and landing, and all the millions of e-reader users and tablet owners can stop grumbling. Maybe.

The FAA is going to conduct testing on those devices, not including smartphones, which hasn’t happened since 2006, back when iPads weren’t even around yet. The reason testing hasn’t yet been done to determine that they wouldn’t interfere with aircraft avionics, because it’s really expensive to do so.

“With the advent of new and evolving electronic technology, and because the airlines have not conducted the testing necessary to approve the use of new devices, the FAA is taking a fresh look at the use of personal electronic devices, other than cellphones, on aircraft,” said Brown.

It’ll take awhile though, as every airline must test each version of every single device before it can be approved by the FAA. So keep lugging those magazines.

Disruptions: Time to Review F.A.A. Policy on Gadgets [New York Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Captain Spock says:

    oh NO i cannot use my kindle for 15 minutes!

    • ctcatfur says:

      From pushback to when they tell you can turn on your devices, only 15 minutes? I wish. Reading makes the time pass and helps you politely ignore the chatty cathy next to you.

      • Cor Aquilonis says:

        Little foam ear plugs are the international symbol of “shut up.” I highly recommend them for your next flight. (For you to wear, I mean.)

    • Derigiberble says:

      Someone has clearly never flown out of Atlanta.

      “We are 34th in line for takeoff…”

    • MMD says:

      It’s not so much about not being able to use the device. It’s the line of utter b.s. they use to enforce an arbitrary rule.

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      Whoa. 15 minutes from taxi to desired altitude?

      (I think that’s not the type of “high” we’re talking about here…)

  2. katarzyna says:

    Making people turn their Kindles off, instead of just asleep, makes as much sense as making them take the batteries out of their watches during take off.

    • c_c says:

      Good point. Some fancy digital gps etc watches probably emit more EM waves than a kindle with the wifi off.

    • MutantMonkey says:

      It’s particularly awesome when you get a Flight Attendant that see’s the static “cover” screen and refuses to believe that that is not the “off” screen.

      FA, “Sir, I clearly see something on the screen. Now please turn off the device or I will have to take further action.”

      Another flyer, “Ma’am, he is correct, you that is “off” for a Kindle.”

      FA, “Sir, please mind your own business.”

      Me, “I hate you.”

  3. curiositykt says:

    I flew jetblue a few weeks ago, and I forgot that they didn’t have skymall – which made the total of 30 minutes without anything to read pretty annoying. Next time I’ll slip a magazine in my bag.

    They did on the other hand have Direct TV going during that time, so the entire cabin was watching TV with their ear buds in during the take off and landing time – which goes against the “We just want you to be paying full attention in case we crash” line.

    • Rachacha says:

      The difference between watching/listening to the inflight entertainment options and listening/watching an iPad/Kindle is that in case of an emergency, the programming is paused and emergency announcements are piped through the in flight entertainment, but not over head phones on your personal device.

  4. madcatcasey says:

    Why not create a certification program that device manufacturers can opt into to get “FAA Approved” instead?

    • Tegan says:

      That’s a really good idea, then some of the testing and such can be offloaded to the manufacturer. Also, it’d be another marketing point for the manufacturer – “Our widget is FAA-certified, now you never have to stop widgeting!”

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      Problem would be, from the FAA’s perspective, that there isn’t a “OK to use in flight.” All the certifications are “OK to use in model XYZ aircraft operated by carrier ABC.”

    • Rachacha says:

      Problem is, the flight attendants would need to check every passenger’s electronics to determine what devices passed FAA testing. You then get into issues like the iPod where a new version comes out every year and they all look the same. After checking 100 iPods FAs will say that all are fine, but the next flight someone will come in with an old one that was not tested.

  5. Phil Keeps It Real [Consumerist] says:

    & don’t forget about the time you got booted of your flight for playing, Words With Friends !

  6. clippy2.0 says:

    Why not smartphones? Don’t they realize most mobile devices can do mobile 3/4g internet as well?

    • Captain Spock says:

      I think *most* is not accurate, but *many* perhaps…

    • Beauzeaux says:

      They test devices one at a time in planes without passengers. There are hundreds of different smartphones. It will be expensive enough just for Kindles and iPads.
      Most airlines can’t afford to have a plane flying empty for very long. The story I read was that they were hoping to spread it around a bunch of airlines with each donating one plane once a month.

  7. justsomeguy says:

    Regardless of the actual utility of the rule, I think this is a situation that calls for a very clear black and white rule. Either you can use all electronic devices in this situations or you can’t use any. Since there is at least some confusion (or claims) that some devices cause interference, it seems like the no devices rule is better.

    The alternative, of having the flight crew check each and every device to ensure that it is on the “ok to use” list, seems like a nightmare. The delay at the gate or on the runway could be endless. And that is without taking into consideration the proliferation of portable electronic devices and how devices become approved for the “ok to use” list. Factor in various cases, covers and skins and there is no way that allowing some but not all devices isn’t a nightmare for everyone involved.

  8. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Expensive to do so? Just provide a free FAA app that cam be downloaded to all devices, then randomly allow flyers to use their devices during takeoff and landing and let the app record what’s going on and if there’s a problem.

    Crowdsourcing it would make it cheap. And, well, if a planes crashes, you know it doesn’t work.

  9. Billl says:

    Never turn off my phone on the plane…..

    • Cerne says:

      You… you monster!

    • phsiii says:

      While I don’t believe for a second that a cellphone signal is going to interfere with avionics (since I *KNOW* that on every flight there are folks who don’t turn ’em off–we’d have more than “anecdotal” reports of problems if it was a real problem), you need to turn it off because otherwise you’ll land with a dead battery, after it’s spent the last few hours hopelessly seeking a cell tower! Fortunately newer Android restarts really fast, so it’s not a major pain.

      • Not Given says:

        MIL is conviced that flight 93 went down because all those people were using their phones.

      • SharkD says:

        Your phone isn’t “hopelessly” searching, it’s talking to 3-4 cell sites at once, with a signal much clearer and more powerful than the terrestrial counterparts.

        It’s the mobile phone providers, not the FAA that have issues with leaving your cell phone on, in flight.

        • Skeptic says:

          Not on the flights I’m on. I live in AK and 99% of my flying is over untowered wilderness and open ocean. Leaving my phone on is an excellent way to drain the battery during the 4 hour flight to the nearest state.

  10. seth_lerman says:

    And if the airlines policy is to have them all off during that time period there will continue to be the issue. The airline (rightfully so) doesn’t want to have to trainre-train their staff of what is ok vs. not OK every few months nor take the time to do the more extensive walk through checking what is ok or not OK. It is just easier to say ALL electronics away during that time period and be done with it. Until that changes I don’t expect to see a change in the SOP during take off and landing.

  11. unchainedmuse says:

    I don’t understand (or believe) that most personal electronics will interfere with airplane navigation systems. How many times has someone either forgotten or refused to turn off a device? Has an airplane crashed because of this? I think not. This is just another way of controlling the masses.

  12. Cerne says:

    About time. The current rules are stupid and based more on fear mongering than real science.

  13. evilpete says:

    Ahhh.. so big name manufacturer devices like iPad and kindle get to stay on and my Xoom has to be turned off?

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      Yeah, because the Xoom manufacturer, Motorola (soon to be owned by Google) is a tiny little upstart.

  14. ParanoidGeek says:

    I think it gets harder to justify the no-tablet rule when the airlines themselves are planning on using them in the cockpit.


    • Firethorn says:

      Pretty much this. Though perhaps one could argue that you at least know the pilot is putting it in airplane mode(snerk), and can shut it off if it ends up causing interference.

  15. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Oh just bring a book and quit whining. You won’t die if you have to turn off your Kindle for a little while. Sheesh.

    • PSUSkier says:

      No crap you won’t die. But why should I be forced to adhere to some arbitrary rule that has not reason to exist in the first place?

    • Virga says:

      I hate comments like this. If it were treated like “meh, not a big deal, turn them off”, then there wouldnt be so much resistance. Instead, it makes a FA’s day to scold individuals over the PA if they see a device on.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        I usually don’t make “comments like this,” but I’m getting sick of hearing it, and I do not want some whiny bastard holding up my plane while he argues with the flight attendant. Find another way to get the law changed.

    • Misha says:


    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      i prefer hard copies, and i don’t fly right now anyway
      but in the past i’ve been able to go through 2-3 books on a flight because i read pretty fast. i can see where people who read a lot/fast and are trying to manage the carry on baggage restrictions would be wanting to use their ebook reader

  16. Jacob says:

    As an electrical engineer, I can understand the e-ink Kindles getting an exception. With electronics, it takes energy in order to create any sort of signal, including the ones that can interfere with airplane electronics. Any device that only needs to be charged once per month, isn’t using enough energy to create interfering signals.

  17. Beauzeaux says:

    What I like is that pilots can use iPads in the cockpit but they’re assumed to be “too dangerous” to be used by passengers. It reminds me of the hospitals that say you can’t use your cell phone but doctors and nurses walk around with them all the time.

    Also electric razors are permitted during take-offs and landings and they have actual brush motors that produce plenty of interference.

  18. az123 says:

    What most people don’t get is the rule these days is less about having the device off and more about not having potential flying objects out in the plane if something happens. It is just easier to get people to put things away if they have to turn them off during take off and landing

    • Geekybiker says:

      So an iphone is a more dangerous flying object than my hardbound copy of war and peace?

      • nybiker says:

        You know how they say the fall isn’t what kills you, it’s the sudden stop? Well, same thing with the phone. When the phone hits something it is more likely than your book to break apart into shrapnel. And that shrapnel can then do more damage to others. The book just hits one person (and if it is War & Peace, it will probably knock them out).

    • Cerne says:

      Than make a rule that addresses the real “problem” instead of a fake one which does nothing but piss people off.

  19. shadow roper says:

    Wow, and to think that I’ve been using electronic charts on my IPad (and laptop prior to the IPad) and using my cell phone to call family/friends from my plane when approaching my destination (hey, come pick me up) for years – and my plane hasn’t fallen out of the sky once.

  20. Skeptic says:

    Ma’am, is that flash drive off?

  21. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    Handheld electronic devices don’t have enough power to interfere with a plane’s avionics. They never did. Some asshole in some government meeting one day wondered aloud if it was possible and instead of properly testing and finding out for sure, simply banned all devices.

    So, another example of half-baked, needless knee-jerk reactions taking away your freedoms in the name of some sort of nebulous “safety” and/or security.

    I know it’s a small thing, that 15 minutes without electronics, but that’s the slippery slope that leads to full-blown 1984. Ill-thought out rules going unquestioned by a populace too scared to or apathetic to speak sense to a government too in love with its own power to care that it’s needlessly taking away otherwise guaranteed freedoms. To quote Star Wars: this is how democracy dies.

    I applaud this guy. I applauded Alec Baldwin for freaking out that time too. It’s a stupid rule that everyone knows is bunk and the government and/or airlines has no right to make it. I’m glad someone spoke up. And don’t start with “the flight attendant was just doing her job.” That’s what the Nazis said. It had to start somewhere back in 1938.