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Portable Electronic Devices May Not Be So Friendly In Flight

5:57 PM, Mar 10, 2011   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- Some airline passengers are annoyed when asked to turn off their electronic devices during take-off and landing. Experts say there is a good reason for that request.

Southwest's rapping flight attendant got passengers to perk up and listen: "You guys with me? Alright, give me a stomp, clap, stomp, clap...Before we leave our advice is put away your electronic devices."

On the average flight, a lot of us tune out that safety instruction.

A new study sites 75 instances since 2003 where personal electronic devices may have interfered with the communication, navigation, or surveillance systems of a plane in flight.

"If that interference happens at the wrong time then it can be a threat to the aircraft and safe operations," says Dave Carson, Co-chair of the Special Committee On Portable Electronic Devices.

It is impossible to say conclusively electronic devices were to blame, but they have been implicated in the malfunctions of an autopilot, rudders, a GPS, and more.

The Federal Aviation Administration forbids any electronics during take off and landing and at altitudes less than ten thousand feet. They are allowed above that altitude, because experts feel if pilots have a problem higher up, they will have time to find it and fix it. Airlines must also demonstrate devices are safe before the FAA will authorize their use.

With new portable devices being introduced at a dizzying pace, it's hard to sort out what can be used and when.

Carson says, "I was on a flight one time and a person next to me got out their electronic reader book just after the announcement was made to turn off all electronic devices. And I asked, 'Why did you take it out just after the flight attendant said turn em off,' and this passenger said, 'Well, this isn't an electronic device."

The best guide is to listen to the flight attendant: "If it has an on off switch we ask that you turn it off now."

You can't do that if you're talking on your phone.

"People want to say goodbye to their loved ones. You know, we get that. But there's a time and a place for it," Veda Shook, Association of Flight Attendants.

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