Moving swiftly after the Federal Aviation Agency removed a long-standing rule against passengers using any kind of electronic device below 10,000 feet, Delta and Jet Blue have announced that their customers are the first who can keep using their tablet or other device during all phases of a flight.
Anyone who travels with the tablet regularly should be familiar with this situation. You’ve loaded your computer up with music, books, and movies to keep you entertained on a long flight, but no sooner are you seated than a voice comes over the loudspeaker telling you to shut all electronics off.
Everyone on the plane then spends 20 or 30 minutes staring off into space or flipping through the peculiar items to be found in SkyMall before the same disembodied voice tells them they can go back to using their tablet, laptop, or phone.
This all happens because the FAA used to have a rule that forbids airline passengers from using any electronic device below 10,000 feet. The government agency put this regulation in place as a “better safe than sorry” sort of thing, as there’s little to no evidence of short-range wireless networking equipment interfering with the plane’s own electronics.
There were no outcries when the regulation went into place: in the 1960s. Cell phones were decades away, and no one from the Kennedy Administration was worried about Kindle users.
But times have changed, and now that virtually every one on a plane has a phone, laptop, tablet, music player, and/or gaming console, there has been tremendous pressure on the FAA and airlines to allow passengers to keep reading their eBooks while their plane is taxiing.
Studies and government committees resulted, and then came the news travelers have been waiting for.
This week, the FAA has officially rescinded the rule preventing the use of electronic devices below 10,000 feet. This means that passengers will be able to keep using their device of choice, as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, even during takeoffs and landings.
But it didn’t remove every single restriction. The rule against connecting to cell towers is remaining in place, so phones and other cellular-wireless will be required to stay in “airplane mode” so their cellular service is disabled.
It is unlikely that this part of the decision will elicit much complaint, as polls and surveys have found little to any support for allowing people to make phone calls mid-flight.
People will be expected to have these gadgets under control during actual takeoff and landing. The agency has ruled that “Electronic items, books and magazines, must be held or put in the seat back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing roll.”
Aside from these exceptions, Jet Blue says that mobile devices can now be used at all times on all of its planes. Delta says that it has approval from the FAA to make the change on its mainline fleet.