planes trains and bus
July 4, 2014

Use Of Electronic Devices On Airplanes Has Stalled, Despite Relaxed FAA Regulations

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

Last November, the traveling public was excited by the fact that Jet Blue Airways was the first US carrier to offer gate-to-gate use of personal electronic devices for its passengers. Very quickly after the FAA relaxed its restrictions on e-readers, tablet computers and cell phones with the airplane mode enabled being used during taxi and take-off, every other airline followed the lead of Jet Blue.

The initial excitement has apparently given way to the reality of the situation - using your device on the ground and in early flight really isn't that big of a perk to the jet set. This findings were reported in a recent study conducted by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

“Consumers are decidedly unenthusiastic about the change, since they still cannot surf the Internet, email, text or place phone calls during takeoff or landing, which can consume more than 40 minutes of flight time,” said Joseph Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute and co-author of the study. “We expected the new policies to encourage more consumers to remain ‘powered up’ from gate to gate, but that simply didn’t happen.”

This most recent study – the fifth in an annual series by the institute – surveyed over 7,000 passengers on 106 bus, train and aircraft departures between February and June of this year. The results were then compared to results obtained in the previous year's study.

Surprisingly, bus and train passengers’ use of technology onboard has been trending upward. The researchers credit this rise with the growing popularity of discount bus lines like Megabus that offer free Wi-Fi to their passengers. With these low-cost lines, greater than 59 percent of travelers were logged on at observed points. Amtrak, conventional bus services and air travel were left in the dust.

With the FAA's announcement to allow gate-to-gate use of personal electronic devices, it was expected that tech device usage would have seen a significant increase. The study shows, however, that this is simply not the case. Compared to last year's statistics where 35.3 percent of passengers were observed using devices mid-flight, this year saw the most modest of increases in that figure, to 35.9 percent. That is the smallest increase observed since the initial study collected data in 2010. Most passengers preferred to read, eat, relax or sleep.

As far as specific devices are concerned, the team reported that both e-reader and tablet use were continuing their sharp rise in use year after year. On aircraft, when devices are used, more than one-third are either tablets or e-readers.

These findings should be looked at with concern by airlines that find themselves, more and more, competing head to head with bus and train travel on shorter distances. Where business travelers would once opt for the quick flight over a 400 mile or less distance, the value in bus and train travel is that they can continue to work while traveling. When you take into account that travelers are advised to arrive at the airport 90 minutes or more before departure, navigate the TSA security labyrinth and wait at a gate before boarding, the lengthier posted travel time for bus and train ends up being not so much longer than the flight experience.

“Travelers want to stay in control and that means staying digitally connected,” notes Schwieterman. He adds, “Many still view being aloft as dead time, even when Wi-Fi can be purchased. A sizable share of flyers simply say ‘to heck with it’ and suspend technological pursuits until they reach their destination.”

The study, entitled “The Personal Tech Tidal Wave: The Rising Use of Electronic Devices on Intercity Buses, Planes & Trains,” was co-authored by Alyssa Battaglia, Blaire MacHarg and Marisa Schulz. In its fifth year, the study has cumulatively observed more than 32,000 travelers on those modes of transport. According to Schwieterman, no other dataset of this kind is currently known to exist.


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