Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is there really a problem with passenger use of iPads and cell phones in some flight phases? Well,, maybe there is.

I had not paid a lot of attention to the issue of passengers’ being ordered to turn off all electronics before take off and at all times when aircraft is below 10000 feet.  Furthermore, all cell phones must remain in “airplane mode” when on even at higher elevations.  Passengers generally aren’t allowed to make or receive cell phone calls at any altitude.  On May 17, I reported on plans by Virgin Atlantic to allow cell phone calls on board.

Delta actually tells passengers to put iPads and smartphones in airplane mode and then to turn them off.

Are these rules necessary?  While problems are rare, industry studies point to reports where operations of navigation systems in older planes have sometimes been seriously compromised, as in this report by Brian Ross in December 2011 for ABC News.  So this sounds like a "common good" problem.  It's not practical for airlines to retrofit the shielding on all older planes quickly. 

John Nance, aviation safety consultant, has somewhat poohed the claims of danger, at least as reported in this Time Newsfeed article by Frances Romero in Dec. 2011, here.  

A blog called “Skeptical Scalpel” weighs in on the IATA report here. (I couldn’t find the report online).    The iPad and some modern smart phones are reported as the most dangerous to older aircraft.
I had been oblivious to this issue before, and even allowed my cell phone to stay on in regular mode in a couple of trips last year.  I had noticed that most of the time the phone (then a Blackberry) could not get or maintain a bars signal.

Yesterday, I tried Delta’s GoGo Inflight Internet service, flying from Salt Lake to Baltimore.  It cost $12.50 and was reasonably fast (between 3G and 4G), and I could blog on my laptop. I found that GoGo does block some ads.  It went down only once, for about a minute. 

Flying out last week (from Charlotte to LAX), USAir did not have the service. 

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