FAA, flight attendants square off over use of cellphones on aircraft
WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest flight attendants union says it wants airline passengers to return to stowing cellphones and other electronics during takeoffs and landings, but the group’s arguments didn’t seem to fly Friday in court.
A lawyer for the union argued before a three- judge panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit that aviation officials acted improperly last year in clearing passengers to use small electronics during takeoffs and landings.
The union says the devices can distract passengers from safety announcements and become dangerous projectiles. The union also says that the Federal Aviation Administration changed an agency regulation without steps required by law.
But the judges hearing the case suggested they won’t be prying portable electronics out of passengers’ hands.
“Airlines have always had discretion on how to handle this,” Judge Harry T. Edwards told a lawyer for the union, the 60,000- member Association of Flight Attendants.
The FAA announced late last year it was changing guidance that had for years resulted in passengers stowing cellphones, tablets, and music and video players during takeoffs and landings. Under new guidance, airlines can let passengers use the devices during those times as long as the plane is properly protected from electronic interference and the airlines get the FAA’s approval.
The FAA says it has cleared 31 airline operators to let passengers use small electronics on takeoffs and landings. Last year, those operators together carried 96 per cent of U. S. commercial passengers.
Judge Janice Rogers Brown asked about the concern that allowing passengers to keep out electronics leaves “more things to fly around” the airplane cabin during turbulence. A lawyer for the government told the judges cellphones are no more dangerous than books which passengers are allowed to keep out.