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Airplane nonsense

So many of the rules and regulations regarding what happens on airplanes seem completely ridiculous.

For starters, there is the requirement that you turn off your electronic devices for takeoff and landing. Whatis the point of making me turn off my iPod? I guarantee you that it does not interfere with the airplane’s instruments (or if it does, I have made life very difficult for some pilots recently by breaking this rule). A pilot friend of mine tells me that the rule is in place so that, in the event of a crash, the electronic device doesn’t start things on fire. Please. If we crash, there will be plenty of fire either way.

Next, there is the requirement about only using plastic knives. It doesn’t seem like a table knife is a great way to take over an airplane to start with. If I needed a weapon, I would just break a wine bottle open. I’d rather have a broken bottle than a table knife in a fight any day.

Third, there is the fact that the Air Marshals are completely obvious if you are looking for them. I fly enough on United that I get to board the airplane in the first group. Sometimes there are a couple of beefy guys already sitting in first class who didn’t get on with the rest of the passengers. They scan you intently as you get on the plane. They have almost no luggage. Hmm, I wonder if those might be air marshals?

Finally, when they read the safety instructions at the beginning of the flight, they go through the whole song and dance about “in the unlikely event of a water landing…” and all the precautions in place to deal with that happening. My friend Peter Thompson did some research on this. At least going back to 1970, which by my estimation encompasses over 150 million commercial airline flights, there has not been a single water landing! (Some planes explode and fall into the water, but he couldn’t find anything resembling a water landing where any of those instructions might help you.) So perhaps 15 billion customer trips have heard that 10-15 second set of instructions without it ever being useful to anyone.

My latest complaint is that the U.S. airlines have not yet put in wireless internet. Some foreign airlines including Lufthansa have. My guess is that there are no technical limitations at this point, but probably big regulatory ones that serve little purpose.

In general, it seems like many of the rules in place exist devoid of any sense of economic reality concerning costs and benefits. Many of these regulations impose costs (maybe small ones, but costs just the same) while providing essentially no benefit (e.g. the water landing stuff). Consumers get utility out of using their electronic devices, reclining their seats, etc. The regulations, however, are written as if safety (real or imagined) is the only goal.