Informed Sources: Don't use that laptop on this plane!

Are some new aircrafts' tray tables corrupting laptop hard drives?

By Salon Staff

Published December 8, 1997 9:20AM (EST)

Last week Wanderlust received an e-mail concerning an aircraft problem we hadn't heard of before -- magnetized tray tables apparently corrupting a laptop hard drive. The e-mail is reproduced below. Have any of you road warriors experienced this problem? Let us know, and we'll pass along the alert! Write to

Recently, two colleagues were traveling to
Belgium on Sabena Belgium World Airlines. They were seated in row 6 of the plane, where seats contain
the tray tables in the armrest section of the seat. They set up their
tray tables and proceeded to use their laptop computers. During the
flight, both their PCs began experiencing problems, and soon they were
unable to use their PCs. Apparently the tray tables were magnetized,
so that they would not jostle and make noises while stored in the armrests.
The magnetized trays corrupted the hard drives of both laptops.

On this
particular Belgium flight, the aircraft happened to be a new Airbus 340,
which explains why this problem has not surfaced until now. The problem seems
to be with a specific European aircraft seat manufacturer. As far as I can determine, USAir,
Northwestern and United have no plans to utilize these magnetized trays
in their new Airbus aircraft, and Boeing and McDonnell Douglas also have no
plans to use these magnetized trays in their new aircraft. There
have been no reported cases of other types of aircraft experiencing
this problem.

The purpose of this notice is simply to make travelers
aware of the "potential" problem, especially on Airbus aircraft built
for European-based airlines. If the tray table appears to be magnetized
(use a paper clip to see if it sticks), then I would advise people not to use
their laptop computer on these trays.

Salon Staff

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