Leaving the Kindle On During Takeoff

airplane The last time I took a flight somewhere with my newly acquired Kindle, I was posed with this dilemma – should I turn my Kindle off during takeoff and landing? Or should I pretend that I was just reading a book that looked a little different?

Now the airline rules are very clear and are rigorously implemented by the airline crew:

1. All Portable Electronic Devices (PED) must be switched off during takeoff and landing.
2. No wireless devices can be operated during the flight.

The second rule is pretty unambiguous in how it should apply. All cellphones, laptops and devices with WiFi – anything with an RF signal – must not be turned on during the flight. The Kindle does have a cellular signal which can be easily turned off. Not a problem – the wireless anyway drains the battery real fast and its probably a good thing that you have to turn it off in case you had it on at the time.

But the first rule is a little gray when it comes to the Kindle. I guess you could call the Kindle a PED. But then so are electronic watches and hearing aids. You don’t have to (rather can’t) turn those off. Which is why the attendants making the announcements will often describe PEDs as “anything with an on/off switch”. That takes care of excluding hearing aids and pacemakers from the regulation. But does that take care of the Kindle?

Not really. The Kindle does have an on/off slider. But the problem is that you can’t really turn off a Kindle in a way that an airline stewardess will understand. When you slide the on/off button on the Kindle the current page of the book you were reading is replaced by a sketch, typically of a well known writer like Mark Twain. Most people will see it and liken it to a screen saver which to them means that the device is on.

But the way e-paper works, it isn’t a screen saver. There is no power drawn to hold the image. From the Wikipedia entry on e-paper

…is capable of holding text and images indefinitely without drawing electricity, while allowing the image to be changed later.

What this means is that the Kindle draws no power when holding the image of a page. Only when you turn the page, do you use (a tiny bit of) power. Which partly explains why the Kindle doesn’t have a mode that will kill the image completely.

So the Kindle does have an on/off slider but it doesn’t really switch it off the way we understand electronic devices to work. I can foresee trouble if you get into an argument with an airline stewardess. I would advise shutting the jacket of the Kindle, if you have one. Or just keep it away.

It seems like a shame to have to stow it away for the 15 minutes it takes to get to cruising altitude when you can resume reading. If you are not carrying a real book that is 30 minutes of downtime every flight when you have absolutely nothing to do.

So why do you have to switch off your PEDs during takeoff and landing? This is actually an FAA regulation. An article in Slate explains

The rationale for switching off other portable electronic devices is slightly different. Even if a device doesn’t transmit a signal—think iPods, Game Boys, “anything with an on-off switch”—it still emits energy at a frequency that could, possibly, interfere with the plane’s electronics.

It seems to me that the Kindle’s intermittent power sipping can’t really pose a problem. But I seriously doubt that the FAA will make an exception for the Kindle any time soon. Oh well…

The wireless device rule (#2 above) is pretty clear, but as airlines progressively introduce WiFi on board it starts stretching the limits of credulity. The same Slate article has some explanations. But it seems like post hoc rationalization of the rules. For every time one has heard cell phones go off in someone’s bag while the airplane is taxiing, there are a thousand other times someone has left it on and it hasn’t gone off. If this was a serious safety issue, shouldn’t there be stricter policing? Or maybe it is a serious safety issue and strict policing will start as soon as the first plane crash due to RF interference occurs. I don’t know which is worse.

Photo by caribb


  1. G Collins says:

    You turn the Kindle off by sliding the power switch and holding it for four seconds until the screen goes blank.

    I agree that with the wireless connectivity disabled, the Kindle shouldn't pose much of a problem during takeoff and landing, but I suspect that it's lumped in with other devices for the sake of convenience. Rather than make the flight crew negotiate with 100+ passengers as to what may or may not be turned on, it's a lot easier to tell everyone that they all have to shut the devices off.


    1. thanks G. I guess I totally missed that.


  2. Anant Misra says:

    Another perspective, if it really interferes with flight communication we would not be allowed to carry it onboard.

    AFEW days ago, Airtel announced a tie-up with Aeromobile of the UK to offer inflight connectivity on sectors outside India. Permission is apparently being sought from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to allow similar services in Indian airspace. My request to the ministry of civil aviation would be to consider and correct the current rule regarding phones on flights, before giving this the go-ahead . The issue at hand is that telling passengers to kindly switch off your mobile phones since they interfere with the navigation equipment on board is a blatant lie and, as a matter of principle, citizens should not be lied to.


  3. Anant Misra says:

    Lets not get into the details of technical studies done by aircraft manufacturers you can find those online. Lets not even argue the fact that all reported incidents from actual flights only revealed mild correlation and no evidence of causation . Lets just use plane (pun intended) logic. If there was even the slightest chance even 1% that a phone could actually disrupt on-board equipment, do you actually think youd be let on board with one Half the passengers just put their phones on silent and turn their screens off. If the airlines were really serious, they would confiscate your phone at security check and return it on landing, or they would install jammers on all flights.


  4. Anant Misra says:

    Indian authorities have implemented these rules in accordance with international norms , which themselves took the lead from the US. The history of the rule in the US is that it was in fact the FCC, their communications regulator, who requested their airline regulator, the FAA, to ask customers to turn off their mobile phones. This was because in the early days of cellular technology, the entire network could crash, if a number of phones went up in the air and switched too quickly from one cell site or tower to another. There was always the theoretical possibility that there could be on-board interference, even though all airline navigation equipment works in a completely different frequency range. With smarter networks and better electromagnetic shielding in cockpits, both reasons are now redundant.
    In any case, no flight attendant has ever asked me to remove a data card, while working on my laptop, proving that airline staff themselves dont really understand the rule. Pilots and aviation specialists, Ive spoken to, coyly admit that the real reason they want phones switched off, is to avoid a cacophony on board.


  5. Anant Misra says:

    Passengers, they say, shouldnt be distracted, especially during the critical take-off and landing phases. I completely agree with this reasoning and thus clearly in favour of switching off all electronic devices at those times. However, it is unfair to not allow them to use their phones, while in a plane on the tarmac for an extended duration.
    This inconvenience was heightened in election season, thanks to VIP flights and passengers were inconvenienced in spite of there being no threat to safety. Id much rather be asked to kindly switch off my phone for my own good, than be patronised with technical mumbo jumbo!



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