Do Our Gadgets Really Threaten Air Travel?


In the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris look at how many people actually follow directions to disable their electronics during take off and landing and find that such a large number of people don’t follow directions that, were these electronics an actual risk to air travel, we’d be seeing a lot more problems than we do.

we recently conducted an online survey of 492 American adults who have flown in the past year. In this sample, 40% said they did not turn their phones off completely during takeoff and landing on their most recent flight; more than 7% left their phones on, with the Wi-Fi and cellular communications functions active. And 2% pulled a full Baldwin, actively using their phones when they weren’t supposed to.

Consider what these numbers imply. The odds that all 78 of the passengers who travel on an average-size U.S. domestic flight have properly turned off their phones are infinitesimal: less than one in 100 quadrillion, by our rough calculation. If personal electronics are really as dangerous as the FAA rules suggest, navigation and communication would be disrupted every day on domestic flights. But we don’t see that.

I’m guilty of this, though by accident.  I’m a frequent flyer who is generally pretty terrified of flying.  I always intend to follow instructions about disabling my various gadgets to the letter, but more than once I’ve forgotten to disable the wi-fi on one of my devices, or to turn off my cell phone.  I can’t imagine I’m alone in this.  As the article suggests, probably every flight that will take off and land in America today will do so with gadgets turned on when they shouldn’t be.

Which suggests that perhaps the time when we need to disable these gadgets has passed.

The FAA, by the way, is considering changes to policies to allow at least some devices (not cell phones, though) to be used during take off and landing.  That’s a good start.  Let’s hope the change happens soon.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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