Travelers who have spent much time in this air can probably recite the intercom warnings verbatim, reminding passengers that it is against Federal Aviation Association restrictions to use portable electronic devices during certain portions of the flight, namely during take-off and landing. Some airlines’ announcements go so far as to list specific products by name, such as Kindles, Nooks, or iPads, in an effort to make guarantee that passengers were aware of precisely which devices are in question. Interestingly, travelers are informed that the devices must be physically stowed in the carry-on bag and not left in the seat pocket, presumably because the device–which incidentally is the same size or smaller than the stash of magazines and catalogs in that very same seat pocket–can be ejected from the pocket and injure someone.
For Senator Claire McCaskill (D), this isn’t good enough. And in her role as chairman of Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, which presides over both aviation and communications policy, it is her job to be kept well-informed of the safety policies for airline travel and their justifications. Only there hasn’t been a justification.
McCaskill has been arguing with various agencies for several years now about the restrictions on portable device use during air travel, not in an attempt to brush aside the potential dangers caused by any interference with the aircraft’s finely tuned controls, but because no one has come forward with any evidence that such interference even exists.
This week, McCaskill’s office released a statement announcing that the FAA may soon lift much of the current restrictions on in-flight device use, and the Senator had following statement for the announcement:
“It’s good to see the FAA may be on the verge of acknowledging what the traveling public has suspected for years—that current rules are arbitrary and lack real justification. In the meantime, I’ll continue my effort to have these regulations rigorously examined until scientific evidence has been presented to justify them, or the rules are altered.”
In her capacity as chairman, McCaskill has maintained that restrictions to protect consumers should be in place if the evidence supports the cautionary measures, but no evidence has been provided that tablets, e-readers, or cell phones are potential threats to passenger safety.