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Of course, we — a royal pronoun that includes Kirchoff — are only human. People can be forgetful or lazy and neglect to turn off their gadgets. According to the flight attendants’ study, nearly 75 percent of surveyed crew members have witnessed passengers disobeying the PED policy on every flight. Almost 83 percent of respondents said that the violation involved a refusal to turn off a cellphone.
In a separate study, the Consumer Electronics Association conducted a survey of in-flight habits in 2003 and again in 2013. A key discovery: "Airline passengers are less concerned about the potential for interference with aircraft systems caused by PEDs than they were a decade ago."
Between takeoff and landing, the rules do loosen up. Some international carriers, such as Qatar Airways, Ryanair and Lufthansa, provide in-flight cellphone service. Passengers use their own phones inside a telecom bubble designed and certified specifically for the aircraft.
"Some airlines have installed systems to make this possible without interfering with airline systems or ground-based cellphone systems," said Perry Flint, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association.
In addition, a growing number of airlines (United, Southwest, American, JetBlue, etc.) are offering Internet through a special WiFi plan. The low-fare bus model has sprouted wings. And of course, passengers are free to switch on their e-whatevers — in airplane mode only — once the plane reaches a cruising altitude of 10,000 feet. They can noodle around with their gadgets until the final descent.
"It’s what, 20 minutes, maybe less than that?" said Caldwell, referring to the no-PED time frame.
One of Boeing’s projects is to design and build an aircraft tolerant of PEDs. Kirchoff said that the models are in"testing phase." But the experts will need to put on their running shoes to keep up with technology.
"Wireless and electronic technologies change so quickly," said Levis, "and planes are intended to last for decades."
Levis is an advocate of the current FAA rule. "I’d be very uncomfortable if people had many kinds of electronic devices communicating wirelessly during flight," he said, "in part because some might be rare or do strange things that nobody has tested for safety in a plane."
Flight attendants, who already fight for passengers’ attention, are also partial to the regulation. "We are first responders, not the PED Brigade," said Caldwell.
Kirchoff also sits on the turn-them-off side of the fence.
"There are a lot of layers of safety," he said. "If you remove [one] layer, you increase the probability of something happening."
He also brings up a related hazard that you don’t need a Ph.D to understand: "You don’t want to have laptops flying around."
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