I fly a lot, and I’ve long been a bit perturbed when people around me – usually young adults who are attached to their smartphones – don’t fully turn off their electronic devices, per federal law, when the crew instructs them to just before departure. Why should they be able to sneak in a last few texts or make another call while we’re taxiing to the runway when the majority of us are playing by the rules?
As technology continues to advance, I’ve started to soften my stance a little. Last month, I didn’t say anything as the woman next to me kept reading her e-book on a Kindle as we were on final approach for landing. If you can read a traditional paper book at that point in the flight, what’s the harm in reading a digital version?
Now, the New York Times comes along with an entirely new scenario. Electronic watches, which don’t really have an on-off switch, have always been allowed at all times on commercial flights, but now we have the SmartWatch from Sony that supports Twitter, e-mail and music via a Bluetooth connection to Android smartphones. “Are people going to be required to turn off their watches before takeoff and landing? Try enforcing that,” wonders a Times piece about wearable gadgets.
The story, which appeared Sunday, then goes on to discuss personal sensors. “A number of sensors like the Nike Fuelband and Jawbone Up that track your daily activity are worn on the wrist and send out signals,” it says.
Maybe Jawbone Up wasn’t the best example, because the manufacturer all but recalled the product six months ago (though it is still available for purchase), but mobile health is going to change the game even more than e-readers.
If they aren’t already, people soon will be boarding planes with wireless heart-rate monitors, smart insulin pumps and cellular-enabled personal emergency response devices. All will have wireless transmitters that either cannot or should not be turned off at any time. Some may need to be paired with smartphones or tablets. Should the Federal Aviation Administration order these things – not fun gadgets, but potentially life-saving medical devices – turned off from the time the aircraft door closes until the plane is 10,000 feet in the air, then again for landing?
One of the comments lays out the argument in clear terms. The ban on electronic devices really doesn’t have much to do with gadgets interfering with critical navigation equipment, as we’ve long been led to believe. “IMO, the FAA and the airlines are trying to reduce distractions that prevent passengers from listening to announcements during an emergency,” writes “Steve C” from San Jose, Calif.
“Below 10,000 feet is the most dangerous phase of flight. As a pilot, I know how fast incidents can change into emergencies. If you’re wearing your Bose noise-cancelling headphones, you’re not going to hear critical information being given out by the crew. If you have your laptop out, it’s going to get in the way of an emergency escape route,” he says.
“Do electronic devices affect navigation equipment? No, not at all. But this isn’t just about navigation equipment. We all take flying for granted, but passengers need to be aware of their surroundings and PAYING ATTENTION.”
Wireless medical devices don’t distract people or endanger the safety of others on the plane. Much the opposite, they can protect the health and safety of the wearer. Being engrossed in an e-book can prevent passengers from hearing emergency instructions, but so can being engrossed in a newspaper article or a crossword puzzle while landing, especially for those seated in emergency exit rows. (I plead guilty to the latter.)
There should be no reason why people must turn their smartphones off for takeoff and landing if they’re linked to health monitors. And now we have the next battleground in m-health regulation.