Remember when 100,000 Philadelphians destroyed Broad Street after the 2008 Phillies beat the Rays in five games? That was basically the mood in my apartment last night when I learned that the FAA was going to relax the regulations on the use of electronic devices during taxi, takeoff and landing. “Finally,” I thought, “The despotic FAA’s draconian rule tyrannically forbidding me to play Angry Birds Space read the JLPP Kindle edition during taxi, takeoff, and landing is as dead as the Stamp Act! Sic Semper Tyrannis!”
My elation turned sour when I actually read the New York Times article and remembered that the easing must still traverse the federal government’s bureaucracy, or at least a portion of it. In fact, as The New York Times reports, the rule will likely be relaxed next year, if the FAA takes up the recommendations due to be submitted by an advisory committee this month (which were originally supposed to be submitted in July). But OK, OK, they’re still relaxing the rule. This is still great news!
Doesn’t the FAA seem a bit late to the party? In 2006, the Discovery Channel aired Mythbusters, Season 4, Episode 6: “Cell Phones on Planes.” For those not familiar with the show, pyrophilic hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman use science to prove or disprove “myths” from urban legends, popular culture, or common knowledge. In “Cell Phones on Planes,” Savage and Hyneman simulated the effect of cell phone use at commercial flight altitudes and determined that there would be no effect on airline safety. The team did issue the caveat that such high altitude use of cell phones would affect cell phone tower functioning, and thus was regulated by the FCC. Still the point stands that it has been a while since many—if not most of us—learned that the use of electronic devices on commercial airplanes does not hinder the pilot’s ability to fly the plane. Yet the regulation has remained on the books, and its vigorous enforcement caused my friend to admit that it gave him hope because “if they’re enforcing that stupid rule, that must mean they are enforcing the more important ones, too.’”
Odd syllogism, and flawed assumption aside, we should question why we agree to turn our iPads off whenever the flight attendants ask us to do so. How can we effect change when we have no ability to vote the bums out of office? Yes, it is only a 20-minute inconvenience. Yes, it appears that the FAA will release the reins of “tyranny.” But when Apple releases a new iPhone every year, how can we expect the federal government to keep up? Really—how do we develop Constitutional agencies that are nimble enough to change with the times? Isn’t a benefit of the “headless fourth branch” that it can sometimes act with the speed of the executive?