Talking on phones is still off-limits, but most devices can be used all flight long
New York Times
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 1, 2013
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 announced that passengers would be able to use electronic devices to listen to music, read and play games in all phases of flight, although the ban on using cellphones to talk and text will remain.
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 prohibited 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.
The administrator of the FAA, Michael P. 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 at a news conference at Ronald Reagan National Airport, outside Washington.
Soon after Huerta spoke, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue announced that they had submitted plans for passengers to use electronics in flight. JetBlue also planned to introduce a high-capacity Wi-Fi service by the end of the year that might work at lower altitudes, said a spokeswoman, Jennifer Dervin.
A Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman said the carrier was still evaluating the ruling.
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devices during some parts of the flight had become an increasing source of frustration for passengers who saw it as outdated in a technology-dependent age, a point that Huerta acknowledged.
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."
Fleisig, a senior vice president at Porter Novelli, a public relations firm, added, "As a business traveler, I'm in the air a lot, and the fact that I can sit down and start working right away and get incredible amounts of work done is a lifesaver."
Huerta stressed that passengers would be told to turn off their 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.
He also noted that change would not be universal. "In some instances of low visibility, 1 percent of flights, some landing systems may not be proven to tolerate the interference," he said. "In those cases, passengers may be asked to turn off personal electronic devices."
Huerta said that the airlines had favored the change to "enhance the customer experience" but that they did not have a uniform position. The industry's main trade association, Airlines for America, supported the decision in a statement.