The federal government is reportedly going to allow passengers to use electronics during takeoff, after an internal study inevitably finds that an unattended Kindle cannot plunge a jetliner to its fiery doom. Unnamed sources inside the Federal Aviation Administration tell New York Times columnist and sane policy-enthusiast, Nick Bilton, that the agency hopes to “relax” gadget rules by the end of the year.
So this is how the federal government works: an agency has leaked a plan to the press about potentially announcing a protracted study that will inevitably find what everyone already knows to be true. I love bureaucracy.
According to Bilton, “One member of the group and an official of the F.A.A., both of whom asked for anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about internal discussions, said the agency was under tremendous pressure to let people use reading devices on planes, or to provide solid scientific evidence why they cannot.”
The FAA has been under intense scrutiny from members of Congress to other federal agencies, to stop forcing airline stewards to pester passengers to turn off devices during takeoff. According to Senator Clair McCaskill, the rules are double silly, since pilots can already use iPads in the cockpit.
“So it’s O.K. to have iPads in the cockpit; it’s O.K. for flight attendants — and they are not in a panic — yet it’s not O.K. for the traveling public,” said McCaskill, who has threatened to draft legislation if the FAA continues dragging its feet.
Not all in-flight restrictions are so simple. For example, the FAA is unlikely to rule on whether passengers can make voice calls during flights.
Interestingly enough, I discovered that it is possible to chat on the phone while flying. I inadvertently received a Google Voice call in-flight, and heard my would-be conversation partner loud-and-clear. But, since my neighboring passengers heard him as well, I immediately ended the call. For the love of everything reasonable, I hope it is illegal to make calls in-flight for a long time.
Regardless, no one is quite sure why it’s taking the FAA so long to enact change; closed-door bureaucratic change is like the dark matter of the federal government. No one can see, no one understands it, yet we understand that it is an inevitable law of the universe.