You are now free to move about the country -- using your portable electronic devices (PEDs) in flight. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has decided it’s safe to allow passengers to use their electronics during all phases of flight.
Due to the differences among fleets and operations, the implementation will vary among airlines, but the agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow travelers to safely use devices like e-readers in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year.
“We believe today’s decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumers' increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These guidelines reflect input from passengers, pilots, manufacturers, and flight attendants, and I look forward to seeing airlines implement these much anticipated guidelines in the near future.”
What Are the Exceptions?
Practically speaking, this means passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions.
For example, electronic items, books and magazines, must be held or put in the seat back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing. Cell phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled -- no signal bars can be displayed --and they cannot be used for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using cell phones. If the air carrier provides Wi-Fi service during flight, passengers can use those services, as well as short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.
The PED Aviation Rulemaking Committee concluded most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals from PEDs. In a recent report, they recommended that the FAA provide airlines with new procedures to assess if their airplanes can tolerate radio interference from PEDs.
Once an airline verifies the tolerance of its fleet, it can allow passengers to use handheld, lightweight electronic at all altitudes. In rare instances of low-visibility, the crew will instruct passengers to turn off their devices during landing. The group also recommended that heavier devices should be safely stowed under seats or in overhead bins during takeoff and landing.
We turned to Rob Enderle, a principal analyst at The Enderle Group, to get his take on the news. He told us this is good news, though it may be a while before we experience the benefits in our air travel.
“Airline companies still have to submit plans and get them approved but we are now on the path to making it possible to use electronic devices in flight,” Enderle said. “So it probably won’t happen this year, but maybe next year. It’s good news.”
Enderle expected the news. As soon as pilots started using tablets in the cockpit, he said, it became very hard to tell passengers that they couldn’t use theirs.
“Some passengers get stressed out during the takeoff and landing and that’s the time they would love to have a distraction -- and that’s the time we are not allowed to use our electronics,” he said. “For everybody involved, letting passengers enjoy their electronic device during those times is going to be a good thing.”