US Air’s Control Freakery

by on March 9, 2008 · 15 comments

While I’m critiquing random aspects of my air travel experience, I have a question: why are airline attendants such control freaks? I’ve gotten used to the “seat backs and tray tables in their upright and locked positions” restrictions, which could have some safety implications in cases of turbulence. And it’s at least conceivable that the ban on cell phones could be necessary to avoid interference with air traffic control systems. But I’m totally baffled by the rule that was in force between the time we landed the plane and the time we reached the gate: cell phones were OK but other portable electronic devices were not. I can’t think of any plausible safety reason—scratch that, any reason at all—for this restriction, especially when the opposite rule is in force while the plane is at cruising altitude. Weirdest of all, the flight attendant announced, and then diligently enforced, the rule that window shades must be up during takeoff and landing. I’ve wracked my brain and I can’t think of any reason it would matter what position the window shade is in. Do flight attendants (or airline executives) get off on making up totally arbitrary rules to impose on their passengers?

  • http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com Ed Felten

    The window shade business might have a legitimate rationale. Having the shades up (a) ensures adequate light inside the plane even if the power fails, and (b) makes any dangerous conditions outside the plane more visible.

  • http://www.infowarrior.org rick forno

    Window-shades up during taxi/takeoff/landing is a safety thing for emergencies. In the event of power outages you have light, and rescuers can quickly see what’s going on inside the cabin if, for example, they need to punch in a few windows to ventilate the cabin of smoke, etc.

    But I agree, there is much about airline announcements that is ducky. George Carlin did a great skit on that a few years ago. :)

  • http://mind-ecology.blogspot.com Anshuman Sakle

    I am an Indian and fly domestically quite a bit. Its not only in the US that the open-shades policy has been in place. The cabin crews since the last year or so have been quite particular about this one here as well. I guess the reasons are quite logical and have been given by Ed in the previous comment.

    In India it is still a rule (though hardly followed once the aircraft lands) that a passenger cannot use his/her cellphone till the time he/she exits the aircraft.

    The restriction on using electronic devices after landing quite baffles me as well. Don’t see any logic in that one.

  • dimitris

    Window shades: In case of evacuation, crew (and passengers seated in exit rows) need to be able to see whether there is fire that precludes the use of overwing exits.

    Electronic devices: This does seem inconsistent. I can understand a prohibition of larger-than-handheld electronic devices, as they could conceivably get in the way during an evacuation. But then the rule should be about larger than handheld electronic devices, not things other than cellphones.

    In fact allowing cellphones to be used after landing while taxiing seems inconsistent to me: If cellphones can interfere with communications equipment, that is a problem on the ground too, as pilots coordinate with the tower for active runway crossings. In fact one of the worst airline accidents ever was a ground collision where a radio communication problem was one of the chain of events. The “strict” thing to do would be to only allow handhelds other than cellphones.

  • http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com Ed Felten

    The window shade business might have a legitimate rationale. Having the shades up (a) ensures adequate light inside the plane even if the power fails, and (b) makes any dangerous conditions outside the plane more visible.

  • http://www.infowarrior.org rick forno

    Window-shades up during taxi/takeoff/landing is a safety thing for emergencies. In the event of power outages you have light, and rescuers can quickly see what’s going on inside the cabin if, for example, they need to punch in a few windows to ventilate the cabin of smoke, etc.

    But I agree, there is much about airline announcements that is ducky. George Carlin did a great skit on that a few years ago. :)

  • http://mind-ecology.blogspot.com Anshuman Sakle

    I am an Indian and fly domestically quite a bit. Its not only in the US that the open-shades policy has been in place. The cabin crews since the last year or so have been quite particular about this one here as well. I guess the reasons are quite logical and have been given by Ed in the previous comment.

    In India it is still a rule (though hardly followed once the aircraft lands) that a passenger cannot use his/her cellphone till the time he/she exits the aircraft.

    The restriction on using electronic devices after landing quite baffles me as well. Don’t see any logic in that one.

  • dimitris

    Window shades: In case of evacuation, crew (and passengers seated in exit rows) need to be able to see whether there is fire that precludes the use of overwing exits.

    Electronic devices: This does seem inconsistent. I can understand a prohibition of larger-than-handheld electronic devices, as they could conceivably get in the way during an evacuation. But then the rule should be about larger than handheld electronic devices, not things other than cellphones.

    In fact allowing cellphones to be used after landing while taxiing seems inconsistent to me: If cellphones can interfere with communications equipment, that is a problem on the ground too, as pilots coordinate with the tower for active runway crossings. In fact one of the worst airline accidents ever was a ground collision where a radio communication problem was one of the chain of events. The “strict” thing to do would be to only allow handhelds other than cellphones.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    The window shade enables those inside to make evacuation decision, like is there a fire on the left side of the aircraft.

    The restriction on using electronic devices after landing quite baffles me as well. Don’t see any logic in that one.

    Maybe it so “in the unlikely case an evacuation” order has to be given, everyone will hear it, instead of being in iPod nirvana?

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    The window shade enables those inside to make evacuation decision, like is there a fire on the left side of the aircraft.

    The restriction on using electronic devices after landing quite baffles me as well. Don’t see any logic in that one.

    Maybe it so “in the unlikely case an evacuation” order has to be given, everyone will hear it, instead of being in iPod nirvana?

  • http://jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    I don’t think the electronic device prohibition is a safety thing (or even a regulation). I think the airlines simply don’t want passengers to have their headphones on (or their eyes on a video or laptop screen) while they’re trying to get you off the plane. They want you paying attention and out of there are soon as they can manage in order to get the plane ready to fly again.

  • http://www.wbklaw.com Michael Sullivan

    I suspect, as Jerry says, that it’s for the sake of attention. They probably would love to ban cellphones while taxiing, but they know damn well they can’t enforce that, so they pick on people with iPods, laptops, etc., and let the phoners do their thing, which they haven’t been able to do during the flight, while people have been indulged re their iPods, laptops, etc., while in flight.

  • http://jerrybrito.com Jerry Brito

    I don’t think the electronic device prohibition is a safety thing (or even a regulation). I think the airlines simply don’t want passengers to have their headphones on (or their eyes on a video or laptop screen) while they’re trying to get you off the plane. They want you paying attention and out of there are soon as they can manage in order to get the plane ready to fly again.

  • http://www.wbklaw.com Mike Sullivan

    I suspect, as Jerry says, that it’s for the sake of attention. They probably would love to ban cellphones while taxiing, but they know damn well they can’t enforce that, so they pick on people with iPods, laptops, etc., and let the phoners do their thing, which they haven’t been able to do during the flight, while people have been indulged re their iPods, laptops, etc., while in flight.

  • http://pinayspeak.com/pinaytest/ pinayseotest

    Jeg formoder, som Jerry siger, at det er af hensyn til opmærksomhed. De sandsynligvis ville elske at forbyde mobiltelefoner, mens taxiing, men de kender pokkers godt de ikke kan håndhæve dette, så de slår ned på folk med iPods, bærbare computere osv.

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