First world whines

One of the things that really annoys me is what I like to call ‘first world whines’. These are the complaints of people who live lives so pampered that the slightest inconvenience causes them to throw a tantrum.

Take for example, airline flight. This has become unpleasant for many reasons but the one thing that does not bother me is being asked to shut off personal electronic devices (PED) during the take off and landing stages. It seems like such a tiny price to pay in exchange for reducing the chances of the plane crashing.

But apparently this is seen as a major inconvenience for some and they have mounted a campaign to have even that minor restriction removed although experts have warned against it.

The debate over PED use on planes has turned into a seething nest of Angry Birds. On one side are passengers, legislators such as Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and electronics manufacturers and suppliers. These folks question the science, and sense unfairness in the rule requiring travelers to unplug all devices during takeoff and landing. This contingent wants its e-readers, its tablets, its DVD players, its video games, its Words With Friends (that one’s for you, Alec Baldwin) and other techy diversions for the entire span of the journey — not just the middle portion.

In the other corner are airline industry experts, including aviation engineers, professors and flight crew members, who support the regulation based on a variety of findings and rationales. This group, however, is receptive to the possibility of new evidence and innovations that could spark an overhaul of the current rule, as long as the adjustments don’t jeopardize passenger safety.

Are people so dependent on these devices that being disconnected from them for about half an hour is intolerable?


  1. jester700 says

    I don’t think it’s a big inconvenience, though for those uncomfortable with flying, that’s the most helpful time to be distracted by an entertainment device. If it’s truly a risk, I’m all for restriction. But it seems to me it may be one of those things that AREN’T truly a risk, and restrictions are perpetuated more from tradition than actual evidence of problems.

  2. Alverant says

    I have no problem with turning off electronic devices. I don’t fly anyway so it doesn’t affect me personally. But I have to ask if there really is a risk of leaving them on? The idea that someone’s iPod can cause a jet problems sounds like an urban legend. If the FAA presnets evidence, then I’ll support the idea. But not until then.

  3. schmeer says

    I turn off my devices as requested, but smirk while doing so. There isn’t any evidence that these kinds of devices pose any risk to the on-board equipment. I’m surprised to read the claim that there are experts who support that position. It’s the first time I’ve heard it. The only reason I can think to prohibit the use of any device is to make sure that passengers listen to the instructions of the flight crew.

  4. coragyps says

    “to make sure that passengers listen to the instructions of the flight crew”

    Yeah, like they would listen anyway…. 🙂

  5. says

    From what I’ve read on the subject, one criticism of most testing is it hasn’t simulated 40 different devices communicating with several different communication towers.

  6. invivoMark says

    I recall the Mythbusters testing this. As I recall, the tests were problematic because there was no way they could simulate a hundred different devices interacting with all the possible range of equipment on an aircraft under real-world circumstances. Still, they didn’t find any obvious way that passengers’ electronics could interfere with any of a plane’s systems.

    I don’t think there’s a good reason to keep the restriction, but I don’t usually use electronics in planes anyway (it’s old-fashioned books for me, usually), so I don’t care a whole lot either way.

  7. Skip White says

    This reminds me of a bit Louis CK did about people complaining about how slow their mobile phones can be, and he basically counters with something like, “you have a phone and a computer that fits in your pocket, that has to send a signal to a tower and then up into space and off a satellite! That is AMAZING! Just give it a few seconds!”

  8. A. Noyd says

    So then what’s the deal with those TV screens in the backs of every last headrest that are on by default throughout the entire flight? If I’m banned from using my electronic Japanese dictionary because electronics are dangerous, the least they could do is shut the screens down at the same time to pretend they’re consistent. (This would also have the bonus of saving me from ever again having my entire field of vision filled with repeated close-ups of Will Ferrel’s face for two hours straight.) Anyway, for me it’s not the inconvenience, it’s that rules should make sense.

  9. M, Supreme Anarch of the Queer Illuminati says

    This is why I just bring books on flights instead — no battery worries, and I never have to turn them off.

    Never mind the electronics — I think the more notable inconvenience is seats that are two inches narrower than my shoulders. I have to spend the whole flight with my torso twisted slightly and leaning either against the seat/wall corner or into the aisle. And it’s not like I’m shockingly broad-shouldered!

  10. TGAP Dad says

    Considering that the flight crew themselves always have their cell phones on them, turned on and quite near to the avionics, and that flight plans and charts are nearly always kept on an iPad, right in the cockpit, I’m gonna call bullshit on the potential for interference with the avionics. The probability is vanishingly small of any interference whatsoever.

  11. Eric Riley says

    I think Neurologica has it exactly correct with: “…if there is a risk from transmitting PEDs then the best option would be for aircraft manufacturers to make their aircraft safe from such devices by using sufficient shielding and other technologies.”

    If there is a risk, then having a requirement that people turn off their devices is useless – what about the person who decides to just leave their phone on, but not play games on it? They don’t *check*, which means that devices are probably left on by a few people *every flight*, even if unintentionally. So – if there is a risk, the answer is not to turn off devices, it’s to better shield the avionics against interference.

    As it is, the requirement existed long before cell phones were common – I remember being asked to turn off a tape-player, which I have trouble believing could be any kind of risk to avionics, given that all of its workings are at audio frequencies.

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    Oh, the humanity…

    Maybe we should let the jet engines do the whining.

  13. Mano Singham says

    According to the article it may be possible for a few users to not cause problems but for the risk to increase with the number of users. So a few people who disobey instructions may get away with it but if they allow everyone then that is not good.

  14. Dunc says

    The aviation industry has such an excellent safety record because they take a very serious approach to risk management. The general approach is that you do not take any risks with critical systems, no matter how small, unless there is a very good reason to. Yes, the chance of your personal electronic device interfering with any critical system is very small. However, the potential consequence is the death of everybody on board. Is that really a risk you want to take unnecessarily, even if the odds are tiny?

    For those saying “just sheild the avionics” – do you really think they aren’t shielded already? Of course they are – if they weren’t then the various different systems would be interfering with each other already. However, no shielding is absolutely perfect, and the amount of wiring in an aircraft is immense. There are practical limits to the level of shielding that can be applied.

  15. twosheds1 says

    I can’t speak for avionics, but doing audio and video professionally, I have personally witnessed cell phones and other devices causing interference, particularly in audio devices. Several years ago, Nextel phones caused bursts of static in speakers or other audio gear just before they rang or received a text message. Now, cell phones don’t seem to cause the interference they used to, except for Blackberries, which interfere with wireless microphones.

    So does this mean that they affect the electronics on planes? I’d guess not, but better safe than sorry.

  16. richardrobinson says

    I’ve always understood this to be more about social engineering than a technical concern.

    Take-off and landing are the highest risk parts of the flight, so the flight crew wants to ensure they can get your undivided attention should they need to. That’s why you’re still allowed to use the onboard A/V system, but not your own devices. The flight crew can communicate to you through the onboard A/V system, or shut it off themselves if they need to. Mind you, I’m the guy who reviews the safety card and listens attentively to the safety briefing. I also lay eyes on every emergency exit before takeoff.

    From a technical standpoint, it’s not likely that any devices, even in concert, will cause any significant interference. It’s still a good idea to turn the radios off on all your devices for purely practical reasons. Your cell phone modulates power to its radio in inverse proportion to signal strength. If you have a strong signal it uses less power. Weak signal; more power. Travelling at 500mph five miles over radio towers optimized for people on or near the ground means you’ll be getting a weak signal and switching towers frequently, further degrading your signal, all while running your radio at max power. You will have a crappy signal and no battery left when you land. Just turn the god-damned thing off.

  17. sosw says

    From what I’ve read on the subject, one criticism of most testing is it hasn’t simulated 40 different devices communicating with several different communication towers.

    This is about electronic devices in general, not cell phones (which aren’t supposed to be on during the entire flight), and take-off and landing specifically.

    Note that this prohibition is recent. It used to be common for people to e.g. take pictures of the view during take-off and landing (often some of the best views during a flight). Cameras have been electronic for a long time even before they started using CCDs instead of film.

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