-- Actor Alec Baldwin's removal from an American Airlines plane Tuesday for playing a game on his cellphone has sparked discussion among experts and frequent fliers at odds over being required to shut off electronic devices during takeoff and landing.
Federal Aviation Administration rules state that no airline or pilot may allow passengers to operate "any portable electronic device" on an operating aircraft.
Nonetheless, airlines often allow passengers to use laptops and other devices that don't emit radio signals when an aircraft is above 10,000 feet, says Alison Duquette, FAA spokeswoman.
The FAA's website says "there are still unknowns" about radio signals emitted by portable electronic devices and cellphones. The signals — particularly in large quantities and emitted for a long time — "may unintentionally affect aircraft communications, navigation, flight control and electronic equipment."
Frequent flier James Morrow, an information technology consultant in Overland Park, Kan., says FAA rules prohibiting the operation of electronic devices in flight are "a gross oversimplification" with very little research to back them up.
"It's my impression that, because there is a remote possibility that some handheld devices might malfunction and interfere with the plane, we're going to insist that everything be turned off," Morrow says.
John Knott, a consultant in Orlando, says passengers should always be allowed to use electronic devices that don't receive or transmit radio signals. "The rule is like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly," Knott says. "It is an overly broad rule based on an unproven issue."
Frequent flier Barry Maher, a professional speaker from Corona, Calif., supports the restrictions. "If the FAA is worried about it, I'm worried about it," he says. "When I'm traveling 600 miles an hour in a metal tube, I'd rather err on the side of safety."
More studies will be needed to determine whether there is real danger in electronic devices operating during flight. Meanwhile, airlines may let passengers use newer-model cellphones in "airplane mode," which "essentially disables the transmission function so they can't make calls," the FAA says. Users can play games, check an address or look at the calendar. FAA guidelines permit airlines to allow cellphone calls after a plane has landed and is taxiing to the gate.