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