May 11, 2015 · 2 minutes

It's hard to think of a rule broken more often than the one requiring people to turn off their electronic devices when a plane takes off or lands. Surely I'm not the only person who pretended to turn my phone off, like the world's meekest anarchist, whenever a plane began its descent toward Earth.

That makes the Federal Aviation Administration's decision to allow people to use their electronic devices whenever they're in a commercial airliner delightfully pointless. A useless rule already undone by bored consumers who did what they pleased anyway.

It also makes the news that an appeals court has tossed out a lawsuit brought against the FAA by the Association for Flight Attendants even more hilarious. Here's an industry group most people have never heard of fighting the least disruptive rule change in history to the world's most often-ignored rule. If that isn't a master class in how absurd regulatory politics are, I don't know what is.

See, the AFA complained that allowing people to use their smartphones during a flight led them to ignore safety information -- because apparently most flyers don't automatically look for emergency exits or know how to put a gas mask on. At least, that was the reasoning the AFA gave to the public. In reality, it appears to have been more upset about the FAA's process than the rule change itself:

When an agency proposes a controversial change in a rule that affects public safety, it must be made through the proper rule-making process, with the opportunity for public notice and comment. In this instance, Respondent circumvented the rule-making process and in doing so, failed to provide clear policy or guidance for securing and stowing [personal electronic devices] and failed to provide a study showing that PEDs held in hand or held in a seat back pocket would remain secure.
You know that one family member who gets upset when they learn about a house rule for a board game like Monopoly even though they know they're playing for fake money and don't really care about the outcome? That's what the AFA resembled when it complained about the FAA's innocuous rule change. This means the appeals court is basically a tired dad who wants everyone to shut up.

As the Kansas Star-Tribune reports:

The court rejected the union's argument that the FAA action had changed an existing rule without following the proper procedures for inviting public comments. Judge Harry Edwards, writing for the three -judge panel, said the FAA's action was 'nothing more than a statement of agency policy' or a new interpretation of an existing rule.
Part of me hopes the AFA or another group continues to hound the FAA about allowing people to do something they were already doing. This whole thing is just such a stunning example of nonsensical fighting. Plus, if any of these efforts are successful, it would let economy-class rebels like me to find a little more fun in subverting a fantastically unimportant rule.