The air travel rule that many passengers hated (and some outright ignored) could soon be a relic after the Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday that electronic devices can stay on from to boarding to landing.
Airlines will have to show the FAA that their planes can safely operate while passengers use electronics — “anything with an on-off switch,” as flight attendants are fond of saying — that emit radio transmissions.
The agency said Thursday that it expects many carriers will do so by the end of the year.
The rule change does not apply to talking on cellphones, which will still not be allowed.
Delta and JetBlue said they had both submitted plans to the FAA Thursday; American Airlines said it would send a plan for its entire mainline fleet Friday. In addition to proving that the planes meet the safety guidelines, airlines must show they have updated their flight-crew training manuals, safety announcements and rules for stowing devices.
The news was welcomed by many frequent fliers and travel industry groups.
“I think it’s long overdue,” William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I wish I weren’t accessible on an airplane, but in today’s sell-sell-sell environment, we often do the [in-flight] Gogo Internet. When I’m on a plane, it seems like half of the passengers are on Gogo.”
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.
An industry advisory committee created by the FAA recommended last month that the government permit greater use of personal electronic devices.
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.
Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, a Caribbean travel expert and writer who lives in Miami, was flying Thursday when the news was announced. She found out after landing in New York City and called the decision “fantastic.”
“I don’t know many seasoned air travelers who actually believed that turning on their devices was ever going to affect the safety of the plane,” she said. “I’m very happy to know that I can use devices in flight now.”
Attorney Valory Greenfield, who lives in Miami-Dade, said she hopes the relaxed rules will not open the door for passengers to talk on cellphones in the air. The FAA does not have authority over phone calls, but said the committee that suggested the rules on devices recommended the FAA consult with the Federal Communications Commission.