October 31, 2013

FAA eases rules on electronic devices on airplanes

People will soon be able to read, work, watch movies and listen to music from gate to gate, but they still can’t talk on cellphones in flight.

By Joan Lowy
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Airline passengers won't have to "turn off all electronic devices" anymore — they'll be able to read, work, play games, watch movies and listen to music from gate to gate under new guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration. But they still can't talk on their cellphones through the flight.

click image to enlarge

An airline passenger checks her cellphone before a flight Thursday in Boston. The Federal Aviation Administration’s new guidelines still don’t allow cellphone use at certain times.

TheAssociated Press

Don't expect the changes to happen immediately, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Thursday at a news conference announcing new rules. How fast will vary by airline.

Delta 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.

It sounded like good news to passengers heading out from Reagan National Airport on Thursday.

Ketan Patel, 24, said he's happy that regulators have debunked the idea that the devices pose a safety problem. "If it isn't a problem, it should be allowed," he said as he stepped into a security line, a smartphone in his hand.

Monica Lexie, 50, entering the same line, said the change will enable her to use her Kindle to read longer. But then she was never bothered by the restrictions.

"You just shut it off and wait for the little light to go on," she said. "Our safety takes precedence."

Currently, passengers are required to turn off their 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 that passengers can use Wi-Fi at higher altitudes are expected to meet the criteria.

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. Passengers will be told to switch their devices to airplane mode. Heavier devices such as laptops will continue to have to be stowed away because of concern they might injure someone if they go flying around the cabin.

The guidelines reflect the evolution in types and prevalence of devices used by passengers over the past decade. In 2003, 70 percent of passengers carried electronic devices with them on planes, and the most common device was a cellphone that wasn't capable of connecting to the Internet, followed by a calculator, according to a survey by the Consumer Electronics Association. A follow-up survey by the association this year found that 99 percent of passengers carry some device with them, with smartphones the most common followed by notebook or laptop computers.

In-flight cellphone calls will continue to be prohibited. Regulatory authority over phone calls belongs to the Federal Communications Commission, not the FAA. The commission prohibits 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.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)