FAA approves air passengers using gadgets on takeoffs and landings
Rules for cellphone use are set by the Federal Communications Commission and are unlikely to change soon.
The New York Times
Quirks to remember
Plane confusion: Delta Air Lines says its mainline planes could allow devices as soon as Friday. Its smaller regional jets might take until the end of the year to certify. That means some connecting passengers will be able to use electronics on their first flight but not on the second.
Device size: Laptops and larger electronics must be kept under the seat or in the overhead bin until the plane is above 10,000 feet. It’s not interference that the FAA is worried about. These heavy devices could become projectiles during a crash.
Takeoff and landing: Kindles, iPads and other tablets must be held tightly or placed in the seat-back pocket for the brief amount of time that the plane is rolling down the runway. Again, the worry is projectiles.
Airplane mode: Cellphones can only be used if they are in airplane mode, meaning they can’t transmit cellular data.
Battery life: Airlines are moving to add individual power outlets and USB plugs at every seat. But that amenity is years away. Until then, travelers are going to have to preserve power as best they can.
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The days of airline passengers being hounded to turn off their tablets or e-readers for takeoff and landing are coming to an end.
On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said passengers would be able to use electronic devices to listen to music, watch movies, read and play games in all phases of flight, although the ban on using cellphones to talk and text will remain.
Rules for cellphone use are set by the Federal Communications Commission and are unlikely to change soon. The commission bars the calls because of concern that phones on planes flying at hundreds of miles per hour could strain the ability of cellular networks to keep up as the devices keep trying to connect with cellphone towers, interfering with service to users on the ground.
The normally conservative FAA moved with unexpected speed in changing its policy, after an advisory committee recommended it a month ago, and the agency won unusually broad praise from pilots, flight attendants and members of Congress, along with passengers.
The changes will most likely take effect before the end of the year, the FAA said, after airlines determine that their aircraft can tolerate the interference.
Passengers will still be barred from browsing the Web and checking email once the plane’s doors have been closed and until its Wi-Fi network has been turned on, usually above 10,000 feet.
Although implementation will vary among airlines, the administrator of the FAA, Michael Huerta, said he expected that, with rare exceptions, airlines would allow the use of tablets, MP3 players and smartphones in “airplane mode,” with their cell network connections turned off. The airlines will have to conduct tests on their equipment and submit the results to the FAA for approval, he said.
Delta Air Lines and JetBlue said they would quickly submit plans to implement the new policy. Airlines will have to show the FAA that their airplanes meet the new guidelines and that they’ve updated their flight-crew training manuals, safety announcements and rules for stowing devices to reflect the new guidelines.
The change would not be universal, Huerta said. “In some instances of low visibility, 1 percent of flights, some landing systems may not be proven to tolerate the interference,” said Huerta, briefing reporters at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. “In those cases, passengers may be asked to turn off personal electronic devices.”
Currently, passengers are required to turn off smartphones, tablets and other devices once a plane’s door closes. They’re not supposed to restart them until the planes reach 10,000 feet and the captain gives the go-ahead. Passengers are supposed to turn their devices off again as the plane descends to land and not restart them until it is on the ground.
Under the new guidelines, airlines whose planes are properly protected from electronic interference may allow passengers to use the devices during takeoffs, landings and taxiing, the FAA said. Most new airliners and other planes that have been modified so passengers can use Wi-Fi at higher altitudes are expected to meet the criteria. The changes apply to domestic and international flights by U.S. carriers.
Passengers will also be able to connect to the Internet to surf, exchange emails, or download data below 10,000 feet if the plane has an installed Wi-Fi system, but not through cellular networks. Heavier devices such as laptops will continue to have to be stowed because of concern they might injure someone if they go flying around the cabin.
The rule banning use of personal electronic devices during some parts of the flight had become an increasing source of frustration for passengers who saw it as outdated in a technology-dependent age.
The change followed the recommendation an advisory committee made Sept. 30. For the FAA to approve such a recommendation within a month, which included the 16-day federal shutdown, is unusual.
Huerta stressed that passengers would be told to turn off electronics when the flight attendants give preflight safety briefings about what to do in an emergency, and that the airlines would have to develop new rules about stowing electronics during takeoff and landing.
While flight attendants have no effective way to determine whether a cellphone or tablet is really in airplane mode during flight, Huerta said, “There’s no safety problem if they’re not, but you’re going to arrive at your destination with a dead battery,” because the device would continue looking for a cell connection and would not find it.
Jodi Fleisig, who lives in Atlanta with her husband and two boys, ages 11 and 9, welcomed the change. “It’s great when you have kids, because you can get them settled in and settled down, and it makes a huge difference in the quality of the flight,” she said. “They can play games on their iPads, or they can read or watch a movie.”
The industry’s main trade association, Airlines for America, supported the decision in a statement. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who had pressed for the change, praised the announcement, too. “This is great news for the traveling public,” she said, “and frankly, a win for common sense.”
The president of the Association of Flight Attendants, Veda Shook, also said the change was “welcome news.”
She said she hoped the new rules would be uniform across the airlines, to minimize confusion among passengers.
The FAA began restricting passengers’ use of electronic devices in 1966 in response to reports of interference with navigation and communications equipment when passengers began carrying FM radios, the high-tech gadgets of their day.
Today’s electronic devices generally emit much lower power radio transmissions than previous generations of devices. E-readers, for example, emit only minimal transmissions when turning a page. But transmissions are stronger when devices are downloading or sending data.
Among those pressing for a relaxation of restrictions on passengers’ use of the devices has been Amazon.com. In 2011, company officials loaded an airliner full of Kindle e-readers and flew it around to test for problems but found none.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.