Oct. 31 marked a triumphant day for the travel and technology industries. That’s when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released new rules loosening prohibitions on airline passengers using personal electronic devices from “gate to gate”—during taxiing, takeoff, landing, and flight below 10,000 feet.
But the decision isn’t a blanket “use anything at any time” policy. And some travelers might even find themselves flying on airlines that are not yet cleared to allow expanded personal electronic device use.
First, Let’s Take a Look at Exactly What the FAA Set Down on Oct. 31:
- Airline carriers can safely expand passenger use of portable electronic devices during all phases of flight.
- Devices must remain in Airplane Mode throughout the flight. Passengers may connect to a plane’s Wi-Fi service, but other Internet connectivity and cellular voice usage will remain off-limits.
- Heavier devices like laptops must still be stowed during takeoff and landing.
- Pilots still have the option to request that passengers turn off their devices in certain instances, like landing in reduced visibility.
But here’s the kicker: since the FAA announced that “implementation will vary among airlines,” some carriers—particularly small regional ones that outsource domestic flying for industry giants like Delta Air Lines and American Airlines—may still require passengers to turn off their electronics during takeoff and landing.
Why? Because each individual airline must pass required technical evaluations of their fleet and make approved revisions to their internal operating policies before the FAA will green light changes. But have no fear: the FAA expects most airlines to have satisfied those criteria by the end of 2013. As NBC’s Today show announced on Nov. 7, U.S. Airways and United Airlines have joined Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and JetBlue as approved carriers, with Alaska Airlines and other companies next in line.
Until 2014, the possibility for confusion remains, however. A former flight attendant and current Slate Associate Editor Jeff Friedrich explained last week how a passenger on a Delta-operated Endeavor Air flight might not be able to take advantage of these newly relaxed regulations—even though Delta has embraced the new rules, even sponsoring a #Below10KFeet photo contest. “If passengers are led to believe they are on a Delta flight, they should experience a standardized approach to safety and rules,” Friedrich wrote. “If Delta cares about safety, it shouldn’t fall to an underpaid flight attendant to explain FAA approvals.”
So if you find yourself on an airline that does not yet allow personal electronic devices, particularly during the mad holiday travel rush, take a deep breath—and don’t take it out on your flight crew. Full compliance with FAA rules is right around the corner, ushering in a new age of productivity for travelers.
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