Tag Archives: Federal Aviation Administration

Air Travel Teaches Us Not To Listen

Zombies are real people forced to listen to airport/airline announcements

Airports and airlines are dedicated to teaching people how to not listen.

There are multiple studies, solid scientific research, on how humans respond to communication and how we best learn and retain information. Unfortunately, air travel offers the antithesis of everything we know about communication.

Outdated Audio Technology
Consider the airport. We have the technology for crystal clear sound in any announcement system. Visit a Disney property and you will hear clear announcements. Every word will be perfect with little or no distortion or hiss.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…” 
Disneyland announcement

If we can do it in Disneyland, solely for entertainment purposes, shouldn’t airports invest in the same quality of public announcement (PA) system when it involves matters of even greater importance? PA systems designed to go into ceiling tiles suck. Maybe it’s time we considered a system designed for the airport environment of 2014, not the office building of 1960.

Zoned Out
Every gate at an airport is a different audio zone, and yet few airports have designed PA systems for this environment. Because most airports have overlapping seating at every gate, passengers for one flight could be sitting in any of three gate areas or standing out in the concourse area just outside of the gate. Few airports seem to understand this geographic distribution. Some airports limit gate announcements to one gate area, resulting in flight announcements to be missed by those passengers not in that gate’s audio zone. Other airports group multiple gates into one zone, so that passengers four of five gates away are hearing boarding announcements for every flight in the area.

Over Communication
The greatest sin of airports is over communication. It seems that airports have a perverse need to create ongoing, excessive, annoying noise. Do these sound familiar?

Please keep your bags with you at all times. Unattended baggage may be confiscated and destroyed.

The Federal Aviation Administration allows you to carry up to three containers of liquids, aerosols, and gels. They must be in a clear plastic bag and removed from your luggage for inspection. Please check with your airline for more information.

Do not carry anything in for anyone else….

I have heard these announcements and many more like them while waiting in the gate area. The gate area within TSA’s secure zone. Anyone in this area has been through the security check point and they and their luggage has been searched and cleared. None of these announcements make sense in an area where everyone has been declared safe to board a plane. They are just noise.

At the gate you will also hear multiple announcements by the gate agent. If there is any training involved of gate agents on how to make PA announcements it would not be apparent from my experience in air travel. Recently, I was waiting for a flight in the Newark, New Jersey airport. The longest period I counted without an announcement was nine seconds. Between the meaningless airport general announcements and the multiple gate agent announcements the passengers were bombarded with endless noise.

The Solution
There is important information that passengers need before they board their flight; however, it is impossible for passengers to determine important announcements for the noise generated in an airport. The remedy involves the FAA, Airport Authorities, and the airlines to reevaluate the purpose of airline announcements…actually they need to assign a purpose to their communications.

Better equipment is a must, and better training on how to effectively communicate information over a PA system. Another possibility is to run all announcements through a centralized public address system where boarding announcements would be made by one trained person who filtered information and determined what audio zones would hear it. 

There is another approach but it would involve a complete redesign of the concept of an airport. That’s not likely in an industry that took decades to determine that an iPod isn’t a threat to a plane’s avionics.

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FAA + Airlines + Personal Electronic Devices = Public Mistrust

by Paul Kiser
USA PDT [Twitter: ] [Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Skype: 775.624.5679]

Paul Kiser

Recently, a 73 year-old man flying from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Winnipeg, Canada was ordered by the flight crew of an unnamed airline to stop using his Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) device during the flight. The GPS device tracks the user’s current position by receiving (not transmitting) a signal from orbiting satellites. Currently over half the world’s airlines allow it to be used during a flight, but not this airline. The man was arrested and fined for not obeying the flight crew instructions to turn it off and also refusing to buckle his seat belt. Not surprisingly his last name was, Ego…I’m not making this up…his name was Michele Ego (See article in Winnipeg Free Press.)

…the incident was based on the Flight Attendant enforcing an 18 year-old policy of restricting the use of  personal electronic devices (PED’s) that has little or no real experimental data to justify it…

Are these really a threat to airline safety?

Clearly Mr. Ego was in the wrong by refusing to obey the instructions of the flight crew; however, the incident was caused by a flight crew enforcing an 18 year-old policy of restricting the use of personal electronic devices (PED’s) that has little or no experimental data to justify it. The zeal of some flight attendants in following this baseless policy creates a source of conflict and mistrust between the flying public and the flight crew, all of which could be avoided, if not for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the airlines.

…the policy uses decades old research that could only pose a theoretical threat by PED’s, without any experimental proof…

The lack of evidence for the restrictions on PED’s (such as MP3-4 players, GPS, cell phones, etc.) is well-known, and yet, airlines stick to a policy of restricting them, especially during takeoffs and landings because of the FAA’s order issued in 1993, that each airline must prove a PED will not interfere with the plane’s avionics before passengers are allowed to use them during a flight. The reasoning for the policy uses decades old research that concluded that PED’s pose a theoretical threat.

During a Congressional Hearing on the issue in July of 2000, over a year before the first generation of Apple’s iPod was sold, the issue of PED’s impact on a plane’s avionics was discussed. During the hearing a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) database of anonymously submitted in flight incidents was presented. Of 69,000 reports, 52 flight crews blamed passenger PED’s for the plane’s avionics problems. In most of the cases from 1992 to 1998, incidents on planes as small as a Cessna and large as a Boeing 757, related problems in navigational readings that seemed to be corrected when passengers were asked to turn off the devices.

…In each case the problem could not be duplicated under controlled test conditions…

In several of those cases, the alleged offending PED was purchased from the passenger and attempts were made to reproduce the problem. In each case the problem could not be duplicated under controlled test conditions. These results were fortified by two commissioned studies of PED’s, including cell phones, in 1983-8, (a study for the airlines,) and 1992-6, (a study for Congress.) Both studies offered no real evidence of avionics interference caused by PED’s.

(See Blog article: Why Your iPad Won’t Kill You)

Regardless of the lack of evidence, neither study could prove that PED’s were absolutely incapable of interference, and in a British study on cell phone transmissions, it was determined that the threat from PED’s was from pre-1984 devices that could theoretically cause interference with a plane’s avionics. Despite a lack of real evidence of a threat, the FAA issued its 1993 ruling that said that airlines should restrict the use of all PED’s below 10,000 feet (for takeoffs and landings) and only allow use of PED’s above 10,000 feet if they could prove it didn’t interfere with the plane’s avionics.

The fact is that today’s commercial airliner has been designed with shielding on all electronic systems to protect it against all types of electromagnetic radiation, including a strike from a lightening bolt, which seems far more likely to happen than an incident of electromagnetic interference caused by a PED like an iPod, GPS device, or cell phone*.

(*Interestingly, it was not the FAA, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) who issued a rule in 1991, that cell phones could not be used by any aircraft –including private planes and lighter-than-air balloons– because of the fear that phones in a line of sight of multiple cell phone towers could cause problems with ground-based cell phone traffic.)

With the airlines blessing, both the FAA and FCC have created an environment that forces flight attendants to be the voice of ‘Chicken Little’, by enforcing flight rules governing PED’s that make no sense in 2011. The ineptness of the FAA and the airlines in their handling of the issue of PED’s undermines the relationship of trust that passengers must have in the flight crew if they are to be believed and obeyed during critical situations involving a real threat to passenger safety.

The question that remains is whether or not the mythological threat of PED’s to aircraft safety is greater than the loss of trust of the flying public.

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