Skip to main content

FAA allowing most electronic device use throughout flights

By Jason Hanna and Katia Hetter, CNN
October 31, 2013 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Airline passengers will soon be able to read downloaded material on their smartphones and other portable electronic devices below 10,000 feet, under <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/31/travel/faa-portable-electronic-devices/index.html'>a new Federal Aviation Administration rule </a>announced Thursday, October 31. Just don't try to connect to the Internet below 10,000 feet or make a phone call at any time in the air. Here are some other fixes that might make travel more pleasant. Airline passengers will soon be able to read downloaded material on their smartphones and other portable electronic devices below 10,000 feet, under a new Federal Aviation Administration rule announced Thursday, October 31. Just don't try to connect to the Internet below 10,000 feet or make a phone call at any time in the air. Here are some other fixes that might make travel more pleasant.
HIDE CAPTION
Ways to make travel better
Round-the-clock hotel check-in
Invent a universal power socket
Bring us the check with the entree
Abolish crazy taxi fares
Offer upgrades whenever possible
Retire the beverage cart from short flights
Just stop talking, please
Eliminate the paper trail
Make booking more transparent
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: FAA says it is reviewing plans it's received from airlines
  • Air travelers will soon be able to use e-devices below 10,000 feet
  • Airlines are already filing requests to grant passengers that ability
  • A ban on cell phone calls remains in effect

(CNN) -- 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 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.

Can your cell phone bring down a plane?

Passengers: You can now keep cells on!
Why can't you use your phone on a plane?

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 at Reagan National Airport.

Some fliers admit leaving devices on in flight

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 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 said Thursday afternoon that it had already received plans from some airlines.

"The agency is reviewing the plans to make sure they conform to the guidance we released a few hours ago," the FAA said. "Depending on the condition of the plan, we could approve expanded use of electronic devices very soon."

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 Internet.

"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 union said.

Opinion: Cell phones on planes? For texting, not gabbing

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 Association study.

CNN's Jonathan Auerbach contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Aviation
It's New Year's Eve, and we're suspended 2,000 feet over Atlanta by an iconic gas bag. Hard to believe I'm actually flying the Goodyear blimp.
Superjumbo, the world's largest passenger plane, has finally conquered the world's busiest airport.
The Soviet shoot-down of Flight 007 killed 269 people, triggering outrage, conspiracy theories and an activist movement that lives on.
A pilot/film consultant with time in Cessnas, fighter jets and airliners reveals behind-the-scenes details about the aviation version of "Cars."
These huge planes have names like Dreamlifter and Super Guppy. Conversations stop. Fingers point. How can something so big defy gravity?
Pilots ranked Hong Kong's now-closed Kai Tak among the world's trickiest airports. Even top pilots said landing was hair-raising. Here are their stories.
It's an airport security idea that could sweep the U.S.: aviation enthusiasts who alert police about potential terrorism. They're doing it in Chicago.
Where avgeeks get REALLY close. It's arguably the most famous spotting destination on the planet: Maho Beach on the island of St. Maarten.
Here's the inside scoop on the plane crash scene in Denzel Washington's film "Flight" and how real pilots worked to save lives aboard United Flight 232.
He's a "hillbilly" who's been going full speed his whole life. Finally, Preston Henn got his hands on the fastest executive jet on the planet: the G650.
A coach class seat can be a chair of torture. Airline seat experts talk frankly about the anger and discomfort surrounding airline seats.
Can you analyze a traveler's personality by their favorite airplane seat? Of course not; don't be ridiculous. But let's do it anyway.
The Air Force calls it 309 AMARG: a 2,600-acre parking lot for about 5,000 retired U.S. military aircraft. And it's on my avgeek bucket list.
Join us aboard United Flight 1. For the first time since it was grounded for battery troubles, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner returns to domestic service.
 AF447 Rio-Paris plane flight black boxes displayed during a press conference on May 12, 2011, at the BEA headquarters at the airport of Le Bourget.
If data had been uplinked from Air France Flight 447 to satellites before it crashed, would loved ones have been spared some of their anguish?
Hijacker "D.B. Cooper" jumped from a 727 with $200,000. He was never caught. What happened to the top witness, an ex-flight attendant?
The Disbergers have turned airline getaways into an art form: 243 family trips, 7.5 million miles. Here's what they've learned.
ADVERTISEMENT