Technology

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Adrian Weckler: Time for Irish airlines to reverse pointless laptop ban

Sick of being asked to turn your smartphone off? You should be - because it's harmless

Adrian Weckler

Published 16/01/2014|02:30

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Airport lounge Jet Set

'Ladies and gentlemen, as the captain has now turned on the fasten seatbelt sign, we would ask you to turn off all portable electronic items at this time."

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It's a warning many business travellers have heard hundreds of times. And it is baseless nonsense.

As US and European aviation safety authorities admitted before Christmas, there has never been any danger to aircraft safety from using an iPod, laptop or eReader.

Thankfully, most major airlines are quickly changing their rules to reflect the truth. British Airways now allows use of any electronics (bar laptops, because of their bulky size) at any point during a flight. American carriers are almost universally the same.

So what about Ireland, the country with a new direct flight for tech executives from Dublin to San Francisco?

The official line on Irish planes remains that iPods can crash the aircraft. Sadly, while US, British and German passengers get to sit back and read their favourite book on a Kindle or review a presentation on an iPad, Irish counterparts must revert to scribbling with pencil and paper while sucking on a boiled sweet for entertainment.

For Irish business travellers, this is unfortunate. Takeoff and landing can easily be 20 minutes each, sometimes longer. In other words, by flying Aer Lingus or Ryanair, you could be taking the guts of an hour out of the time you get to work onboard.

If you want to get a flavour of just how out-of-date Irish airlines' digital safety procedures are, Ryanair provides an instructive guide. According to a spokesman, the budget airline only allows CD Walkmen, digital dictaphones, "non-cellular PDAs", portable DVD players, MP3 players and laptops. It also allows "Reader e-books" though not, apparently, iPads or tablet PCs.

Aer Lingus has a similarly archaic guide.

Furthermore, Aer Lingus and Ryanair flight attendants actively warn passengers that Kindles or battery-powered headphones can be a real danger to the plane's safety.

The confusion these admonitions can cause is sometimes unfortunate.

I recently sat beside a little girl who started to cry because the teenager in the next seat hadn't switched off his iPod as we were descending. As her mother tried to comfort her, she wailed that the plane might fall down because of the iPod. And it's not just kids: I've seen adults become nervous for the exact same reason.

Sadly, as both US and European regulatory authorities admitted last year, this was always bunkum.

There appears never to have been an incident where any sort of electro-magnetic interference from any passenger's device has ever caused an issue with an airplane. Even phones, which remain on the verboten list, have a very scant claim to threatening aircraft safety. (On any flight I have ever been on in the last five years, dozens of people remain texting or tweeting away when the aircraft is taking off with no apparent interference or safety hazard.)

Other items remain on the banned list, though not for any technical reason. Laptops, for example, are still not allowed during takeoff and landing and must be stowed because they are regarded as a physical danger in instances of extreme turbulence. This, too, is an odd rule: my 11-inch MacBook Air weighs less and is smaller than many hardbook books on sale in duty free, which are automatically allowed.

So what needs to happen for the situation to be rectified?

According to the Irish Aviation Authority, both airlines simply need to notify it of their updated procedures involving use of electronics during takeoff and landing.

"Irish airlines that wish to allow for the use of portable electronic devices must submit their updated operations manuals to the IAA for review and approval, before they can allow the use of those devices," said a spokesman for the irish Aviation Authority. "On the basis of these recent developments, the IAA expects to receive updated operations manuals from Irish airlines in the coming weeks, which will subsequently be reviewed and approved by the IAA if deemed satisfactory."

Despite the optimism of the IAA spokesman, neither of the Irish airlines has indicated that they will be submitting updated procedures "within weeks".

Perhaps they may rethink this whole thing and expedite a change, though. It's unlikely that Ryanair -- and especially Aer Lingus -- will want their airlines to gradually develop the reputation of being anti-business in comparison to their rivals.

When that direct flight to San Francisco starts in 12 weeks' time, it would be unfortunate if Google and Facebook bosses are warned by Irish attendants that tablet PCs can crash an aircraft.

Irish Independent

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