Pointless Plane Prohibition

All electronic devices must be turned off prior to takeoff. If you fly anywhere, you’ve almost certainly heard this message. This requirement was adopted for passenger safety, right? Perhaps. Some electronic devices, phones in particular, can cause problems with the plane’s equipment. But the rule applies across the board, even to iPads in “airplane mode” and Kindles. Does this make sense? Apparently not, as there is no technical or scientific basis for the ban on Kindles during takeoff. Nick Bilton explains:

I’ve spoken with the F.A.A., American Airlines, Boeing and several others trying to find answers. Each has given me a radically different rationale that contradicts the others. The F.A.A. admits that its reasons have nothing to do with the undivided attention of passengers or the fear of Kindles flying out of passengers’ hands in case there is turbulence. That leaves us with the danger of electrical emissions.

And what are the electrical emissions of a Kindle?

When EMT Labs put an Amazon Kindle through a number of tests, the company consistently found that this e-reader emitted less than 30 microvolts per meter when in use. That’s only 0.00003 of a volt.

“The power coming off a Kindle is completely minuscule and can’t do anything to interfere with a plane,” said Jay Gandhi, chief executive of EMT Labs, after going over the results of the test. “It’s so low that it just isn’t sending out any real interference.”

But one Kindle isn’t sending out a lot of electrical emissions. But surely a plane’s cabin with dozens or even hundreds will? That’s what both the F.A.A. and American Airlines asserted when I asked why pilots in the cockpit could use iPads, but the people back in coach could not. Yet that’s not right either.

It turns out the Kindle puts off about the same amount of electrical emissions as a portable shaver — and under the FAAs rules those are allowed during takeoff. So what explains the Kindle ban? According to one expert quoted by Bilton: “agency inertia and paranoia.”