Monday, November 04, 2013

Cutting Through

Now that the FAA has agreed to loosen up restrictions on using electronic devices from gate to gate, a debate has begun on whether to do the same for cell phones:

Federal approval to use electronic devices throughout flights has revived a related debate over whether airline passengers should also be able to make voice calls while airborne.

Under the Federal Aviation Administration's new guidelines, fliers can use tablets, e-readers and even smartphones from gate to gate, but those devices must be switched to "airplane mode," disabling cellular connections.

The FAA has said it doesn't have safety concerns about the in-flight use of cellphones. Instead, the agency is complying with the Federal Communications Commission's ban on cellular connections in flight, designed to avoid interference with cell towers on the ground.

The same FAA advisory group that recommended lifting most restrictions on electronic devices also considered the pros and cons of allowing fliers to talk on cellphones in the cabin. But partly because the FAA determined voice communication was outside the committee's jurisdiction, they punted to the FAA and the FCC to discuss the ban on in-flight cellular connections.

As I’ve mentioned before, I would oppose letting people use mobile phones during flights. The views of fellow travelers are mixed:

Fliers appear split on whether voice calls should be allowed. A survey of more than 1,600 U.S. adults included in the FAA advisory group's report shows that 51% of respondents felt negatively toward in-flight phone calls, while 47% felt positively. When asked what, if anything, should be banned during flights, 61% said phone calls, more than double the response for the No. 2 answer: alcohol.

So somewhat less than 30% of fliers think alcohol should be banned? That’s a rather frightening number in favor of prohibition.

If I had my druthers, I would ban the following behavior of travelers:

- Grabbing the seat in front of you and pulling it back in order to get to your feet. It’s a seat, my seat, not a device to make it easier for you to stand.

- Piling into the aisle and pushing your way forward to deplane before the rows in front of you have. We all want to get off the plane as much as you do. Wait your turn.

- Crowding around the boarding area when the process hasn’t yet started and you’re in Zone 3 (a Delta specific example) and then being surprised that people with Sky Elite status have to fight their way through you to board the plane.

I could go on and on with examples that are far worse than anything I’ve encountered due to alcohol.

Meanwhile, Joe Doakes e-mails to note that now that electronic device usage is being reconsidered we should look at other safety restrictions that don’t really keep us safe:

That’s good news. Now, let’s revisit the pocket knife issue.

Like many older men, I routinely carry a tiny pocket-knife. The feds know there is miniscule danger from people like me. They proposed allowing me to carry my pocket-knife so they could focus on real threats. Hysterics forced them to retreat but hysteria shouldn’t drive security decisions.

I used to have a small Swiss army knife in my backpack that I carried on trips for years. I forgot it was even there until I was going through security in Denver one time when the TSA noticed it and disposed of it. I had probably carried it on twenty flights in the post 9/11 period without it ever attracting attention. The idea that we must have a zero tolerance approach to such “weapons” is absurd.

Common sense is finally prevailing with electronic devices. It would be nice to do the same with pocket knives.