Where I Make the Case to Unplug under 10,000 Feet

I’m feeling a little contrary.

The FAA recently relaxed most of its restrictions on the use of personal electronic devices in flight. (Voice calls remain verboten). This was good news by all accounts, with the greatest criticism being of the “it’s about time” variety. Critics of the old rule ranged from scientists/engineers who knew a lot about why these devices posed no risk, to the rest of us (not scientists/engineers) who knew nothing but had the intuition to observe, “This doesn’t make sense.” So, it is indeed gratifying to see the FAA make some sense. However, as I mentioned, I’m feeling a little contrary.

Here’s why. I believe in actually experiencing a flight. This has changed my own business travel from a stress to a pleasure. Too often, we lose a sense of wonder at the fact that, really folks—we’re flying here! About two years ago, I changed my seating preference from aisle to window. The window seat changed everything for me.

Now, admittedly, I’m relatively small. If you’re a man over 6-feet tall, you can stop reading right here, because I get that you need the legroom of the aisle seat. But if you don’t mind the body fold, the window offers a lovely sense of actually traveling.

So back to the FAA ruling. No matter what seat you’re in, you will miss traveling when you’re buried in your phone, iPad or laptop. Yes, often I’m the first one powering up at 10,000 feet, but at least that’s after I’ve enjoyed the ride a little. The best part of a window seat view is below 10,000 feet, where you get to experience taxiing, the takeoff, the banked turn, and all that.

My colleague Janet Libert just wrote a piece for Executive Travel bemoaning the heads-down culture. When your head is down—in your device—you miss a lot. Sure, you have your emails and texts and movies and books and…–but you miss what’s going on around you. Like the every-flight drama of those last passengers to board, struggling to stuff their cellos and football team duffel bags into the overhead bin. Or the kite surfers’ aerobatics on San Francisco Bay. Or the unaccompanied minor in the seat next to you who is scared to death of takeoffs and could use a reassuring word.

I want to stay connected as much as the guy in the seat next to me. Yet because I can, doesn’t mean I should. Travel is a wonder, and I don’t want to disconnect from that. I’m glad we have more options. There are some days it’s critical for me to be 100 percent connected for 100 percent of the flight. But many days, I want to be sure to look out the window, at least for 10,000 feet, and TRAVEL.

When a Cell Phone Rings…in the Cockpit

The debate continues about whether inflight use of electronics–specifically cell phones–poses a safety risk. As the FCC and the FAA ponder this issue, the flying public seems doubtful about the risk but fearful that allowing cell phones inflight might just add to the unpleasantness of air travel. Meanwhile, Dallas Morning News airlines reporter Terry Maxon received some interesting letters from pilots who had experienced aircraft irregularities that seemed clearly linked to cell phone usage–sometimes even their own phones, which they had forgotten to turn off. What happens when the pilot’s cell phone rings inflight? Ooops. Read the letters here.