Posted by: Korry | November 15, 2011

Techie Tuesday: Seat Backs and Tray Tables

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has indicated that we are in the final descent for landing. Please place your seat backs and tray tables in their full upright and locked position and turn off all portable electronic devices for the duration of the flight.”

If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you have most likely heard that announcement. Chances are good that you also saw how your seat back only went up a few inches and were irritated that you had to turn off the record-breaking game of Angry Birds you were playing. And if you’ve thought these things, you’re probably like one of our readers who asks, “What is up with having to turn off my cell phone, iPod and laptop before landing?” For today’s Techie Tuesday feature, I’m going to answer just that. (Do you have a question? Email me at

Here’s the deal. Electronic devices, seat backs and tray tables have little to do with interfering with the navigation equipment of the airplane. They have a little bit more to do with the communication interference, (For instance, have you ever heard the interference that happens when you’re talking on a land line and your cell phone rings? Well, the pilots hear that same interference over their radios when your cell phone rings on the plane) but they have a LOT to do with an emergency evacuation and whether or not you’d hear the important flight attendant announcements or be able to quickly exit the plane. And statistically speaking, takeoff and landing are the most likely (of the incredibly unlikely) times that an emergency evacuation may be required.

Lets face it: none of us ever wants to be involved with an inflight emergency situation, especially your pilots. We like things boring and routine…it leads to waaaaaaay less paperwork! But if that unlikely situation occurs, for your own safety, you need to hear the flight attendant instructions and you can’t do that with earbuds in your ears. (Sidenote: if you’re wondering why it’s ok for you to watch or listen to the inflight entertainment provided by the airline, it’s because any announcements made by the flight attendants will interrupt whatever you’re currently listening to). Furthermore, if an emergency evacuation is actually called for, you’re going to want to to be able to get from the comfort of your window seat to the aisle without having to leap over someone’s laptop or tray table.

So other than the minor interference that some electronic devices may have upon communications between pilots and ATC, the rule about having portable electronic devices turned off, all seat backs in their upright position and tray tables stowed really has everything to do with you being able to escape from the airplane during an emergency evacuation. It is literally your flight plan for life at that particular moment.

Sure, it’s very unlikely. (Remember, we pilots do our jobs safely over 99.999% of the time). But if you’re ever in a situation that requires an emergency evacuation, you’ll be glad that the woman next to you is waiting to jam out to Coldplay until after the plane has landed and that the guy on the aisle will finish his Excel spreadsheet after the flight…because your life truly may depend on it.

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