It's been a long time since flying was fun (unless you are reading this on the upper deck of a 747, of course). This week, however, things got a bit more bearable thanks to the FAA's decision that airlines can now allow their passengers to keep their gadgets on – in airplane mode – during taxi, takeoff and landing. The first two airlines to actually put this into practice are Delta and JetBlue.
Both say that they have worked closely with the FAA to evaluate the impact of gate-to-gate personal electronics use and have completed testing to ensure that the use of personal electronic devices during all phases of flights is safe on its planes.
Other airlines will surely follow soon, but the fact that every airline has to go through testing and get FAA approval will lead to quite a bit of confusion. We'll hear about irate passengers on United, American or Southwest who refuse to power down their electronics after the boarding door has closed. It's also worth noting that for Delta, this new rule only applies to mainline flights. Passengers on Delta Connections flights, which are operated by a number of regional airlines, will still have to follow the old rules until at least the end of the year.
Under the FAA's guidance, virtually all small, lightweight gadgets are classified as “personal electronic devices.” Laptops and anything larger than a tablet, however, still need to be stowed during taxi, takeoff and landing just like before. The same goes for gadgets that were previously banned from in-flight use, including e-cigarettes, televisions, and remote-control toys.
All of this doesn't mean that in-flight Wi-Fi will now be available until the flight passes 10,000 feet, however. Gogo, which powers the vast majority of in-flight Wi-Fi in the U.S., is evaluating the possibility of allowing connections from gate-to-gate, but in its current form, the service simply doesn't work under 10,000 feet.
The Air Line Pilots Association, by the way, says it supports the FAA's decision and was involved in the FAA's rulemaking process. The organization, however, notes that it believes that electronics should be stowed for takeoff and landing and that “relying on passengers to selectively turn off their devices in areas of extremely poor weather is not a practical solution.” Under the new FAA guidance, passengers will still have to turn their electronics off when low visibility requires the use of some landing systems.
In case you are confused about when and where exactly you can now play Dots on the plane, here is a chart from our friends at Delta: