Smartphones, tablets and other devices are safe during airplane takeoff and landing, says FAA panel, but voice calls are still a no-no.
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The Federal Aviation Administration is closer to lifting a ban on the use of electronic devices in airplanes when they are taking off, taxiing and landing. An FAA advisory panel concluded that it is safe for passengers to use handheld electronic devices "during all portions of flight" on nearly all U.S. planes, reports The Wall Street Journal. If the ban is lifted, it will be a win for passengers.
The current rules adopted by most U.S. airlines force passengers to turn off all electronic devices when the cabin door is closed while the plane is still at the gate. Only after the aircraft has achieved an elevation of 10,000 feet are passengers allowed to turn their devices back on. Seasoned travelers know all too well that not everyone cares to follow the rules. For example, actor Alec Baldwin was kicked off a plane several years ago after refusing to shut down his smartphone during takeoff procedures.
The FAA now believes that it doesn't matter what passengers are doing with their phones, tablets, e-readers and PCs during taxi/takeoff. The panel says "the vast majority" of planes "are going to be just fine" as far as safety is concerned. It says most airliners "already have been so dramatically improved and aircraft are so resilient" to the type of electronic interference in question that changing the policy won't put anyone in danger.
The FAA's recommendation does not, however, apply to cellular phone calls made from planes. The FAA believes that the Federal Communications Commission's rule, which governs in-flight cellular use, should stand firm. The FCC has banned air-to-ground cellular connections because they wreak havoc on the ground-based cellular networks. They don't pose a safety risk.
Passengers will be able to connect to the Internet on planes via Wi-Fi, even during takeoff, provided such access is available from the airplane. Headaches will remain, given that accessing the Internet on airplanes is often a pricey affair. Further, some predict that arguments might ensue between passengers and flight attendants over the use of "airplane mode" on cellphones and whether or not they're using on-board Wi-Fi or cellular data to connect during takeoff/landing.
At the moment, the ban remains.
The FAA panel's report has not been published publicly yet. Once it is, the FAA will need to assess the report and determine the best course of action moving forward. The FAA can still chose to ignore the report and leave the current bans in place. Lawmakers and organizations such as the Consumer Electronics Association continue to put pressure on the FAA to alter the rules, but the FAA still has the final say on the matter.
The FAA advisory panel report is due to arrive soon, but there's no timeline on when the FAA might make a decision based on the recommendations.
Bottom line: Passengers still need to turn off their devices when the airline pilot says to.
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