FAA allowing most electronic device use throughout flights
Airplane travelers will soon be able to watch videos and play games
with their electronic devices throughout their entire flight -- and not
just above a certain altitude -- the Federal Aviation Administration
said Thursday in a long anticipated announcement.
But don't expect to be chatting on your cell phone. A ban on using cell phones for voice communication remains in effect.
The FAA, following months
of study by a group of aviation experts, said Thursday that airlines
can soon allow passengers to use portable electronic devices such as
tablets, laptop computers, e-readers and cell phones in airplane mode
throughout the flight -- with some circumstantial restrictions.
Until now, passengers in
the United States were prohibited from using the devices until their
plane rose above 10,000 feet. The timing of the changes will depend on
individual airlines, but an FAA statement said it expects "many carriers
will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use
their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year."
"Each airline will
determine how and when this will happen," FAA administrator Michael
Huerta told reporters Thursday morning at Reagan Washington National
The periods of flight in
question are fairly short. The ascent of an aircraft to 10,000 feet
usually takes 10 minutes or less, depending on the airport and weather
conditions, said Patrick Smith, a commercial airline pilot and Askthepilot blogger.
Delta Air Lines and
JetBlue Airways wasted no time announcing Thursday morning that both
airlines have filed plans with the FAA to allow for use of approved
electronic devices below 10,000 feet on their flights. Both carriers had
representatives on the FAA advisory panel.
The FAA also permits the
use of in-flight Wi-Fi service if the airline offers and allows it.
Delta said its service will continue to be available above 10,000 feet.
The FAA had long claimed
that using electronic devices during takeoff and landing posed a safety
issue and that radio signals from the devices could interfere with an
aircraft's communications, navigation and other systems.
But a panel the FAA
established last year to study the issue concluded that most commercial
airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals.
Before an airline
switches to the relaxed rules, it will have to prove to the FAA that its
aircraft can tolerate the interference. Airlines have, over the years,
built newer planes with portable electronics in mind, hardening them
against electromagnetic interference.
The FAA did outline an
exception to the new rule: "In some instances of low visibility -- about
one percent of flights -- some landing systems may not be proved PED
tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device."
An airline pilots union
that participated in revising the rules voiced support Thursday for the
requirement that airlines prove their fleet's tolerance to signal
interference, but expressed reservations about traveler compliance.
"We remain concerned
that relying on passengers to selectively turn off their devices in
areas of extremely poor weather is not a practical solution," the Air
Line Pilots Association said in a statement.
Enforcing the policy
Flight attendants' hard jobs just got harder, said travel blogger Johnny "Jet" DiScala.
That's because they'll have to ensure that passengers are only using
devices in "aircraft safe" mode, not downloading anything from the
"No one turns their
devices off anymore," DiScala says. "I don't say anything (to fellow
passengers about turning them off) these days because all the studies
have shown that it doesn't cause any problems, and the pilots are now using stuff (iPads and other electronic devices) in the cockpit."
The Association of
Flight Attendants expressed some concerns, asking in a statement that
testing be streamlined to ensure that "airplanes can tolerate
electromagnetic interference" from passenger devices. Development of
crew training and passenger messaging is also needed to ensure
passengers pay attention to safety messages from flight attendants, the
Benefits for travelers, electronics manufacturers
It's no surprise that
advocates for the travel and electronics industries cheered the easing
of the restrictions on devices during flight.
"We're pleased the FAA
recognizes that an enjoyable passenger experience is not incompatible
with safety and security," Roger Dow, U.S. Travel Association president
and CEO, said in a prepared statement. "What's good for the traveler is
good for travel-related businesses and our economy."
Travel blogger Brett Snyder said he expects a lot of consumer satisfaction related to the new policy.
"This is exactly what travelers have wanted," said Snyder, the Cranky Flier columnist,
via e-mail. "It will, however, mean people have more distracting them
from paying attention during the safety briefing, so airlines are going
to really have to step up their game to make sure people understand how
to be as safe as possible."
In early October, the
Consumer Electronics Association announced support for an FAA committee
recommendation that passengers generally be allowed to use typical
lightweight electronic devices at all altitudes of flight on airplanes
hardened against radio interference.
About 69% of passengers
traveling with an e-device reported using their devices on a flight, and
almost one-third of passengers admitted to accidentally leaving one on
in flight, according to a 2013 CEA/Airline Passenger Experience
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