Using Your Smartphone While In-Flight is a Privilege, Not a Right

Jad Mouawad and Nick Bilton, writing for The New York Times:

For many passengers, the ban has been a source of frustration. John Shahidi, a technology entrepreneur, ignored the order to turn off his cellphone late last year, but this time a flight attendant caught him sneaking a look at his iPhone, he said — and instead of a gentle scolding, she opted for a public shaming. She stood there, he said, staring at him, and announced that the plane would not take off until he had powered down the phone.

On the one hand, it is good that the FAA is going to review its rules for passengers' use of T-PEDs (Transmitting Portable Electronic Devices) during all flight phases. Having a policy that is based on research and empirical evidence is a good thing. On the other hand, the amount of vitriol being spewed by passengers is absurd.

The fact of the matter is that there is a non-zero risk to airplane systems due to passengers' devices. Honeywell, for example, is embroiled in discussions with the FAA regarding its cockpit panels' susceptibility to interference from Wi-Fi signals. The most critical and dangerous flight phases are when the airplane is taking off or landing. As you might imagine, instrument disruption during those phases is more dangerous than when the plane is at cruising altitude. With that said, 'non-zero risk' is not the same as 'imminent danger' and this policy review is a positive step for the FAA (which is entrusted with making the skies safe).

However, the fact that the FAA's existing policy may become obsolete does not warrant the childish responses exhibited by passengers such as Mr. Shahidi.  In-flight entertainment is not a human right. It is a privilege.

I am not suggesting that the FAA's existing policy is above reproach. Rather, I am suggesting that disagreement with the policy should be based on rational thought and discourse instead of being based on an emotional response to a minor inconvenience.

Folks, I am hopeful that the FAA will relax its restrictions on using electronic devices. However, until the proper authorities have weighed the risks and presented their evidence, I will follow the rules and turn my devices off when requested (and so should you).