Flight Attendants Want Mobile Device Ban Reinstated

Largest union of flight attendants sues FAA, seeks reinstatement of ban against the use of smartphones and tablets during takeoffs and landings.
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Flight attendants don't want passengers using smartphones and tablets during takeoffs and landings anymore. They argue that such use prevents passengers from listening to safety announcements and, further, that the government violated its own rules regarding the stowage of items during the most critical phases of air travel. They want the ban put back in place.

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration made it easier for airlines to demonstrate that the use of electronics on planes didn't pose any significant safety risks. The ball got rolling quickly, and by early 2014 most airlines relaxed the rules governing what passengers are allowed to do with their devices on planes.

Prior to the change, all devices, large and small, needed to be turned off and stowed during takeoffs and landings. Passengers were permitted to use devices in airplane mode only when the plane reached an altitude of 10,000 feet. After the change, use of smaller devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and e-readers, was allowed during takeoffs and landings as long as the wireless radios were turned off. Large devices, such as laptops, still cannot be used until the plane reaches 10,000 feet.

[European Union flights get noisier: Cellphones OK For EU Airlines.]

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA is suing the FAA over the change, reported The Wall Street Journal. The lawsuit was filed in December 2013, but only became public last week. The flight attendants' union says since the ban was lifted passengers no longer pay attention to the safety demonstrations that precede each flight. They also claim devices can -- and have -- become projectiles during turbulence. The union further worries the use of devices could impede egress from planes in the event of an emergency during takeoff and landing.

"Essentially we want to set the reset button to the way personal electronic devices were handled prior to October 2013," said Amanda Duré, an attorney representing the union. Duré said takeoffs and landings are the two most dangerous phases of flight and when the most turbulence and accidents occur.

On its face, this argument makes sense. Since the rules have been relaxed, passengers often begin listening to music or watching movies long before the cabin door shuts. With headphones covering their ears, they often miss pre-flight announcements.

The unions' legal argument stands on entirely different ground. It believes the FAA should have required a formal rule-making process in order to enact change. Instead, it merely issued guidance for the airlines. At issue is the notion of what constitutes luggage. Federal rules mandate that all luggage be stowed during takeoffs and landings. In a court filing the Justice Department said, "Not every single item carried onto a plane (e.g., a cellphone, a book, a pack of gum) necessarily constitutes an 'article of baggage' that must be 'stowed' under the seat or in an overhead compartment."

Use of personal devices has always been a thorny issue on aircraft. The government is still weighing whether or not to allow airlines to make in-flight cellular calling available to passengers. Flight attendants are hoping to keep that particular practice banned before it gets off the ground.

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