Occasionally, I will recommend a news article, book, blog post, research or a short video clip to view relating to public relations. This “eperini Readview” references a USA Today editorial about thinking twice before using electronic devices on airplanes. —mbp
What do you think about using electronics aboard airplanes?
FROM USA TODAY, 22 DECEMBER 2011) “Many airline passengers using Kindles, iPhones and other portable electronic devices bristle at flight attendants’ orders to turn them all off before takeoff and landing. Why? What’s the harm? Fliers routinely leave devices on and the planes don’t crash, so the rule must be bogus, right?
OPPOSING VIEW: Superstition and what-ifs
That’s what we thought, too. Then we decided to take a close look at this question after actor Alec Baldwin was kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to stop playing Words with Friends on his cellphone. That research, coupled with Gary Stoller’s reporting in today’s USA TODAY, changed our view.
Plenty of scientific evidence shows that electronic devices can interfere with airliners’ radios, navigation units, collision avoidance boxes and even their fire detection systems. As an estimated 43 million people take to the skies this holiday season, many with new smart phones or tablets, that’s a finding worth heeding.
The case is even stronger when you combine the technological evidence with dozens of chilling circumstantial incidents in NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, where pilots can anonymously report safety-related problems. Among the reports in NASA’s database:
•A regional jet was climbing 9,000 feet last May when the pilots’ directional indicators suddenly went haywire, leading the airliner 4 miles off course. After the confused pilots asked passengers to make sure their electronics were off, the cockpit instruments returned to normal.
•As a flight was climbing out of Charlotte-Douglas airport in North Carolina, there was such a loud buzzing on the pilots’ radios that they could barely hear controllers. The captain warned passengers that if they didn’t turn off all devices, the plane would have to return to the airport. After “nearly the entire plane” checked their electronics, the noise stopped and the flight continued.
•The pilots of an airliner flying at nearly 300 mph toward Philadelphia suddenly got a warning on the instrument panel that they were about to collide with a plane a mile ahead of them. They made an emergency climb before controllers said their radar showed no plane there. A flight attendant later told the pilots she had caught a woman making a cellphone call to her daughter during the approach.
•Pilots descending to land in Baltimore watched their instruments swinging oddly until they broke out of the clouds at 1,800 feet almost a mile off course. They concluded that numerous passengers using their cellphones had caused the error.
Not every device in every seat on every plane is a problem. Incidents seem to depend on which devices passengers use and where they sit, which could be near an antenna outside the fuselage or an electronics bay hidden away inside the plane. On one long over-water flight, for example, pilots began having trouble with their instruments and asked flight attendants to check the cabin. The attendants asked passengers to turn off their laptops one by one until they found the one that was causing the problem.
Some fliers have protested that pilots can now use iPads in the cockpit, so why not in the cabin? Simple: If pilots noticed problems, they could quickly switch their iPads off. And they’re required to use them in “airplane mode,” which shuts off all transmissions and makes them unlikely to cause problems.
OK, then why not let passengers use their devices in airplane mode, too? That would only work if everyone knew how to operate airplane mode (a surprising number do not), and if it didn’t mean flight attendants would have to police each passenger’s device.
Soon after Baldwin got the boot, he appeared on Saturday Night Live dressed as an American pilot. He called the rules about electronic devices “just a cruel joke perpetrated by the airline industry.” The bit was funny, but the rules are no joke. Given the evidence, everyone from the Federal Aviation Administration to flight attendants should have “words with friends” about the need to turn devices off. It shouldn’t take a crash to make the point.”