Twice during a flight — first before takeoff, and then again before landing — come the dreaded words: “Please turn off your electronic devices.” Passengers must then stow away their tablets, e-readers, laptops — “anything with an on-off switch.”
This shutdown ritual has been the law for years. But with electronic use now embedded in travelers’ ways of life — it’s how many prefer to work and read — federal regulators must finally find ways to let passengers use their devices for the entirety of a flight.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s rationale has been that electronics use could interfere with key aviation functions, such as communications and even navigation. But scientific data haven’t proven that passengers’ devices gum up a plane’s works, as Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has noted while calling for the FAA to change its policy. Even the Federal Communications Commission, which banned cellphone use during flights in the 1990s, has called on fellow regulators to loosen up restrictions for less annoying devices, arguing that doing so would boost passengers’ productivity.
The FAA said it’s studying the actual effects of electronics on plane instruments. Where the review finds that devices pose legitimate safety risks, restrictions should remain. (The ban on cellphone conversations during flights should also remain, if only to preserve passenger and flight crew sanity.) But as soon as possible — and preferably by this year’s holiday travel season — regulators should update the law to accommodate the way people prefer to fly today.