NBC Flies to Alec Baldwin's Rescue: Is There a 'Double Standard' For Using iPads on Planes?

On Wednesday's NBC Nightly News, one week after NBC TV star Alec Baldwin got booted off an American Airlines flight for refusing to turn off his iPad, anchor Brian Williams declared: "Now we turn to the latest skirmish in the battle over electronic devices on airplanes and what some passengers are seeing as a kind of a double standard here, now that we've learned pilots will be allowed to use iPads in the cockpit."

Unlike ABC and CBS, only NBC decided to take Baldwin's rude egotistical behavior and try to turn it into a serious discussion of airplane passenger rights. Even after listing the important documents pilots store on iPads, like "constantly changing flight manuals, navigational charts and airport layouts," correspondent Tom Costello remarked: "A lot of travelers have doubts. We asked Boeing's senior engineer Dave Carson. How can an iPad be used by the pilots on the flight deck but not in the cabin?"

On the December 8 Nightly News, just days after Baldwin was kicked off his flight, Williams introduced a similar story by Costello: "And however people feel about Alec Baldwin, it's clear a whole lot of people who fly in this country have a hard time believing that anything they do with their electronics is going to affect that big giant aircraft they're flying in."

In that report, Costello skeptically asked: "Everything must be in the off position before the plane pushes back and when it's preparing to land. But do they really pose a danger?"


Here is a full transcript of Costello's December 14 report:

7:11PM ET

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Now we turn to the latest skirmish in the battle over electronic devices on airplanes at one – and what some passengers are seeing as a kind of a double standard here now that we've learned pilots will be allowed to use iPads in the cockpit. Our report from NBC's Tom Costello.

TOM COSTELLO: For pilots, the new iPad flight bag will replace those 45-pound briefcases stuffed with paper versions of constantly changing flight manuals, navigational charts and airport layouts.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That is Frankfurt Airport.

COSTELLO: The FAA says these iPads and applications have been proven safe for the cockpit, but the FAA demands that the Wi-Fi Internet connection must remain off.

DAVID CLARK [CAPTAIN, AMERICAN AIRLINES]: We've been testing now for six months with literally no issue.

COSTELLO: It was just a week ago that American Airlines kicked Alec Baldwin off a flight for berating a flight attendant and refusing to turn off his iPhone before takeoff, something he was still playing up on Saturday Night Live.

SETH MEYERS: Don't phones interfere with the plane's communications system?

ALEC BALDWIN: Oh, you don't believe that, do you, Seth?

COSTELLO: A lot of travelers have doubts. We asked Boeing's senior engineer Dave Carson. How can an iPad be used by the pilots on the flight deck but not in the cabin?

DAVE CARSON: It's a good question and I can understand why people would ask it. That iPad or tablet or netbook computer is in the control of the airline, so they maintain it. They assure that if something goes wrong with it, it's fixed.

COSTELLO: The FAA prohibits electronic devices below 10,000 feet because those are the most critical moments for an aircraft, takeoff and landing, when the pilot has little time to react if interference were to disrupt navigational equipment. While a modern aircraft may be designed and certified to tolerate a handful of electronics left on during takeoff and landing, what if dozens were left on or perhaps even hundreds?

CLARK: Nobody in the industry has tested the effects of, say, 200 cellphones on at one time.

COSTELLO: So despite the skepticism, the FAA says they must remain off for now, erring on the side of caution. Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC