FAA Says In-Flight Electronics Are OK

You may never have to hear "Please power down your electronic devices for takeoff" again. Today, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it is safe and acceptable for passengers to use portable electronic devices during all phases of a flight.

Transportation Administrator Michael Huerta held a press conference this morning, during which he said that passengers will soon be permitted to use smartphones, laptops, tablets, and e-readers throughout the duration of a flight. The changes affect all U.S. carriers, whether they're operating internationally or domestically.

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Nevertheless, passengers are not allowed to make phone calls while flying on U.S. carriers. Games, music, TV shows, and anything else that works during airplane-mode setting will be permitted. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—not the FAA—governs cell-phone usage in the air, and the FCC says that cell phones must stay in airplane mode, which stops your phone's signal and prevents your device from receiving or sending calls and texts. However, flyers may use Wi-Fi, connect Bluetooth accessorizes, and work with e-readers, tablets, and laptop computers during all phases of air travel.

The lifting of the long-time ban won't take effect immediately. It's up to the airlines themselves to determine when to put the new changes into action. According to Huerta, the FAA will be working with airlines to implement the new rules "as quickly as possible," and expects expanded use of devices on planes to come "very soon." Airlines will need to revise manuals, passenger briefings, training programs, and such before flyers may use their devices freely.

Safety announcements continue to be more important than Angry Birds, so passengers must put away their devices during the safety briefing before each flight.

The loosened rules aren't entirely set in stone. There is a chance that flight crew will continue to instruct passengers to power down electronics on some flights. Huerta said, "In some instances of low visibility—1 percent of all flights—some landing systems may not be proven to tolerate interference. in those cases, passengers may be asked to turn off devices."

For several years now, the FAA has been reevaluating its ban on device usage on planes. In 2013, the agency formed a government-industry group to study the effects of personal-electronic interactions with airline systems. Huerta said the FAA "wanted to take a thoughtful look at rules governing use of portable electronic devices in flight," which have been in place for about 50 years.

We think it's about time.

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(Photo: Thinkstock/Fuse)

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