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Reaching Cruising Altitude

In an age of digital technological dependence, it is frustrating to power down the devices which keep us connected to the world, even just for a few hours. As such, the dilemma has sparked a great deal of discussion about why airlines ask passengers to power down portable electronic devices.

Although the public has generally been told that signals from such devices could interfere with the plane’s onboard navigational equipment, there are several other possible motives. Overhearing another passenger’s phone conversations can be particularly annoying, and many think the regulations’ purpose may be to maintain crew and passenger sanity.  Is this another attempt to improve the overall experience of flying?

Despite the fact that SmartPhones feature an “airplane mode” that allows local use of the device without broadcasting or receiving any signal, airlines are still adamant about users fully powering them down. As it turns out, the FAA is concerned about any and all passenger distractions during takeoff and landing, because those are the most critical time periods during a flight for passengers to be alert in case of an emergency.  In essence, the real value of banning the use of devices is rooted in a strong concern for passenger safety.

Actor Alec Baldwin was recently removed from an American Airlines flight for using his phone to play the popular Words With Friends after he was instructed to disable the device by the flight crew. Much of the attention was placed on the farcical nature of the event, ignoring the possibility that in our social media-crazed state, someone may choose to text or tweet before taking action in the event of an emergency.

While airlines face criticism for detaching passengers from their beloved cell phones, they are actually attempting to protect their most valuable assets: customers. So why not market it as such? The fact is that business motives are often radically different than what marketing may powerfully otherwise suggest.

The FAA is currently working towards certifying specific electronic devices as safe and compliant, in an effort to loosen regulations on device use. However, passengers probably shouldn’t expect airline practices to drastically change over a competitive game of Words With Friends or Angry Birds.

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