We’ll Soon Be Able to Use Personal Electronic Devices During Taxi, Takeoff, nd Landing
Today’s big news was that the ban on using personal electronics onboard aircraft that are below 10,000 feet would be lifted.
This change applies to both domestic and international flights on US airlines. Each airline has to submit a plan for how it will allow such use safely, and will be able to implement its own rules within FAA guidelines.
But very soon we’ll be able to use electronics below 10,000 feet. We won’t be able to use broadcast signals, any such devices will need to be in ‘airplane mode’. And cell phone use will remain banned, since that’s an FCC rule and isn’t address here, because cell providers lobby against it (bouncing cell towers is a challenge for them), and because the public thinks that it’s the worst idea ever though they don’t really rebel against it on Amtrak and Airfones didn’t cause the downfall of the world either.
The Old Rule Was Pretty Silly
When talking about the rule that electronics had to be turned off below 10,000 feet, most people thought it was pretty silly — almost everyone has mistakenly either left their phone on in their bag, or had some electronics turn on during the flight which they only realized later. And no Really. Bad. Things. happened.
Nor did problems arise when pilots used tablets in the cockpit, either.
The notion that $100 million equipment could be brought down by an iPod, or by 100 iPods, was the subject of ridicule.
This Isn’t Trivial or Frivolous
At the same time it seems to most people like a minor inconvenience. If I complain about it, I’d be chided for focusing on one of the ultimate “first world problems,” the inability to use my computer while flying through the sky.
I mean, how important is it really?
Henry Harteveldt, whom I much respect, has said that this is about keeping the passenger entertained.
I wouldn’t be nearly so dismissive.
First, because entertainment shouldn’t actually be dismissed. Entertainment is, in some sense, the point. Having increased happiness, making the most of each moment, seems like it’s the goal of the human condition, at least once we’ve satisfied basic survival needs (and most people in an airplane seat have done so).
But second because it’s also a big deal for the economy. It’s not just your ten minutes. It’s everyone’s.
- There are 800 million passengers a year on US flights.
- If 1 in 6 passengers does something productive with their time, that’s over 44 million hours of productivity per year.
- Over a decade ago I had done some market research and found that the average airline passenger made over $90,000 per year. So their time generates an average of $45 per hour.
- That’s two billion dollars per year.
I don’t know if these assumptions are reasonable. Certainly average income is higher now than a decade ago (though not that much!) and people working would seem likely to skew towards higher salaries. Perhaps one in six people working is high, but it doesn’t actually matter — perhaps it ‘only’ generating a billion dollars a year in activity.
If a regulation didn’t promote safety and cost the economy a billion dollars a year, there would be a strong presumption against it. And it’s already cost that billion each and every year it’s been in place.
So this should be celebrated, as a triumph for making the most of our moments and as a positive economic move.
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