US flight attendants want to take away your iPhones. Here’s why they won’t succeed

Fine, raise my seat back, but you cannot power down my cellular device.
Fine, raise my seat back, but you cannot power down my cellular device.
Image: AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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In case you haven’t noticed first-hand, American flight attendants are fuming over the fact that they no longer control your in-flight cell phone use. So they’re suing the US Federal Aviation Administration over its relaxing of rules last year about the use of phones, tablets, and other electronics during takeoff and landing.

The nation’s largest flight attendant union, the Association of Flight Attendants, argued in the DC circuit of the US Court of Appeals that the devices distract flyers from safety announcements, and can become dangerous objects to fly around during turbulence. They also argue that the FAA didn’t take the proper steps required by law (in this case, providing a public notice) when changing the rule.

The 60,000-member union’s isn’t likely to overturn the FAA’s recent easing (the suit will be ruled on in a written statement by a 3-judge panel). Jeffrey Sandberg, a lawyer for the FAA, compared the argument about the danger of flying electronics to that of books, which are permitted and have never been considered perilous to flyers. More importantly, one of the ruling judges in the case has already noted that airlines ultimately dictate what rules govern on their airplanes; the FAA merely gives guidance.

Since its relaxing of the rules, the FAA has approved around 31 different airline operators (roughly 96% of the US airline market) to allow passengers to use the devices. Given the rejoicing among US airline passengers over the rule change, those airlines aren’t likely to reverse course.