The Federal Aviation Administration has recently announced that personal electronic devices (PEDs) such as e-readers, tablets, and cell phones (on Airplane Mode) may now be used during taxi, takeoff, and landing on most flights in the United States.
Previously, passengers were asked to turn off their electronic devices until the plane reached 10,000 feet, since it was believed that certain electronics could interfere with the navigational equipment on certain planes. After research done by the FAA, it was determined that most modern planes’ equipment has been shielded to prevent any kind of interference, but some older planes have not been shielded.
The FAA is asking passengers to wait until above 10,000 feet to use laptops, since takeoff and landing can be the bumpiest (and sometimes most dangerous) parts of a flight, and a laptop could prevent a fast evacuation.
Here are the FAA’s 10 things travelers should know about the new rule:
1. Make safety your first priority.
2. Changes to PED policies will not happen immediately and will vary by airline. Check with your airline to see if and when you can use your PED.
3. Current PED policies remain in effect until an airline completes a safety assessment, gets FAA approval and changes its PED policy.
4. Cellphones may not be used for voice communications.
5. Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled. You may use the WiFi connection on your device if the plane has an installed WiFi system and the airline allows its use. You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, such as wireless keyboards.
6. Properly stow heavier devices under seats or in the overhead bins during takeoff and landing. These items could impede evacuation of an aircraft or may injure you or someone else in the event of turbulence or an accident.
7. During the safety briefing, put down electronic devices, books and newspapers and listen to the crew member’s instructions.
8. It only takes a few minutes to secure items according to the crew’s instructions during takeoff and landing.
9. In some instances of low visibility — about 1 percent of flights — some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.
10. Always follow crew instructions and immediately turn off your device if asked.
Many airlines in the U.S. now have in-flight Wi-Fi, but many of these systems cannot be activated below 10,000 feet. The system used by Air Canada, AirTran, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, United, U.S. Airways, and Virgin America uses a system provided by Gogo that has an antenna mounted on the bottom of the plane, and signals are sent from towers on the ground. Because of this, the plane needs to be high enough above the towers to receive a signal. Gogo has stated that it can reposition the antennas on the towers to allow Internet access below 10,000 feet, but it will take time.
Southwest Airlines has become the first airline to allow Wi-Fi access at all times during the flight, even while on the ground. This is because Southwest uses a satellite-based system to provide Internet and Live TV. (The antenna can be seen in the picture above as the white triangle on the top of the plane.) JetBlue also uses satellite-based Internet but doesn’t have it on very many planes yet.
The FAA is also considering the full use of cell phones (including calling and texting) while above 10,000 feet since many airlines around the world have allowed this for years.