Do you have a laser pointer? Maybe for presentations? Or playing with cats? Don't point it at a plane.

It's dangerous and illegal.

"When aimed at an aircraft from the ground, the powerful beam of light from a handheld laser can travel more than a mile and illuminate a cockpit, disorienting and temporarily blinding pilots," the Transportation Security Administration's website says. "Those who have been subject to such attacks have described them as the equivalent of a camera flash going off in a pitch black car at night."

That could be incredibly dangerous, especially when planes and helicopters are taking off or landing. "During critical phases of flight, particularly in hours of darkness when the eye is more sensitive to light sources, a laser strike in the cockpit can create a 'startle response,' which negatively impacts pilot health and flight safety," said Capt. Joe DePete, first vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association.

But people can't seem to stop doing it.

Just Wednesday night, pilots on 12 flights reported that lasers were pointed at them as they flew over New Jersey, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Eleven commercial aircraft and one military aircraft reported being illuminated by a laser.

Pilots across the country reported 23 other "laser incidents" that same night.

The flights, which were struck between 9 and 10:30 p.m., all landed safely, the FAA reported, but one pilot was said to have been temporarily blinded.

FBI spokeswoman Mollie F. Halpern said she was not aware of any case in at least the last five years that has involved as many aircraft in such a contained region. JetBlue, Delta, United and American were among the airlines whose planes were affected. Eight of the commercial flights were bound for Newark Liberty, while the other three were headed to La Guardia.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the geographical spread indicated that "not one person was capable of doing all of that lasering."

What begins as a pinhole-sized beam on the ground can expand several feet in the sky and temporarily blind pilots. The FBI reported 3,960 such strikes in 2014 — a drastic rise from the 283 reported in 2005. President Obama signed a law in 2012 that made shining lasers at aircraft a federal crime carrying up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. The FAA can also levy a civil penalty of up to $11,000 for each infraction.

Last year, a California man was sentenced to 14 years in prison for repeatedly directing a laser pointer at a police helicopter, although an appeals court later overturned the sentence.

Washington post and new york times