FAA clears way for passengers to use electronic devices in flight, but not make phone calls

At last.

Airline passengers who can’t stand to be separated from their tablets, MP3 players and smartphones while flying America’s airlines will finally be allowed to use them in flight — but they still won’t be allowed to make cell phone calls.

Under new guidelines issued Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration is lifting its 47-year-old ban on electronic devices in flight that originally was aimed at passengers who wanted to turn on their then-state-of-the-art technology FM radios.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told reporters that the restrictions could be lifted by the end of the year, but will have to be implemented by individual U.S. airlines.

Immediately after Huerta’s press conference, Delta and JetBlue announced that they would submit plans for passengers to use their electronic devices in flight.

The change does not lift the ban on making cell phone calls in flight because the Federal Communications Commission has regulatory authority over phone calls, not the FAA.

The FCC bans cell phone calls because of worries that phones on planes flying at hundreds of miles per hour could strain the ability of cellular networks to keep up as the devices keep trying to connect with cellphone towers, interfering with service to users on the ground, according to the Associated Press.

Until the ban is lifted, airline by airline, passengers still will have to turn off their smartphones, tablets and other devices once a plane’s door closes. They’re not supposed to restart them until the planes reach 10,000 feet and the captain gives the go-ahead, according to the AP.

Then they have to turn them off again as the plane descends and not restart them until the plane is on the ground.

Once the restrictions are lifted, flight attendants would not be able to determine whether passengers comply with regulations that their devices be in “airplane mode” that would disable their ability to connect with a cell tower, Huerta said.

“There’s no safety problem if they’re not, but you’re going to arrive at your destination with a dead battery,” he told the New York Times, because the device would continue looking for a cell connection and would not find it.

Photo by New York Times.


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