Washington NotesF.A.A. Moves to Ease Electronics Ban, Opening the Runways to Angry Birds
By Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times
- Nov. 1, 2013
WASHINGTON — The days of airline passengers being hounded to turn off their tablets or e-readers for takeoff and landing are coming to an end.
On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that passengers would be able to use electronic devices to listen to music, read and play games in all phases of flight, though the ban on using cellphones to talk and text will remain.
The normally conservative F.A.A. moved with unexpected speed in changing its policy, after an advisory committee recommended it a month ago, and the agency won unusually broad praise from pilots, flight attendants and members of Congress, along with passengers.
The changes will most likely take effect before the end of the year, the F.A.A. said, after airlines determine that their aircraft can tolerate the interference.
Passengers will still be prohibited from browsing the web and checking email once the plane’s doors have been closed and until its Wi-Fi network has been turned on, usually above 10,000 feet.
The administrator of the F.A.A., Michael P. Huerta, said he expected that, with rare exceptions, airlines would allow the use of tablets, MP3 players and smartphones in “airplane mode,” with their cell network connections turned off. The airlines will have to conduct tests on their equipment and submit the results to the F.A.A. for approval, he said at a news conference at Ronald Reagan National Airport, outside Washington.
Soon after Mr. Huerta spoke, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue announced that they had submitted plans for passengers to use electronics in flight. JetBlue also planned to introduce a high-capacity Wi-Fi service by the end of the year that may work at lower altitudes, said a spokeswoman, Jennifer Dervin.
The rule banning use of personal electronic devices during some parts of the flight had become an increasing source of frustration for passengers who saw it as outdated in a technology-dependent age, a point that Mr. Huerta acknowledged.
Jodi Fleisig, who lives in Atlanta with her husband and two boys, ages 11 and 9, welcomed the change. “It’s great when you have kids, because you can get them settled in and settled down, and it makes a huge difference in the quality of the flight,” she said. “They can play games on their iPads, or they can read or watch a movie.”
Ms. Fleisig, a senior vice president at Porter Novelli, a public relations firm, added that “As a business traveler, I’m in the air a lot, and the fact that I can sit down and start working right away and get incredible amounts of work done is a lifesaver.”
Mr. Huerta stressed that passengers would be told to turn off their electronics when the flight attendants gave preflight safety briefings about what to do in an emergency, and that the airlines would have to develop new rules about stowing electronics during takeoff and landing.
While flight attendants have no effective way to determine whether a cellphone or tablet is really in airplane mode during flight, Mr. Huerta said, “There’s no safety problem if they’re not, but you’re going to arrive at your destination with a dead battery,” because the device would continue looking for a cell connection and would not find it.
Mr. Huerta also noted that change would not be universal. “In some instances of low visibility, 1 percent of flights, some landing systems may not be proven to tolerate the interference,” he said. “In those cases, passengers may be asked to turn off personal electronic devices.”
Mr. Huerta said the airlines had favored the change, to “enhance the customer experience,” but that they did not have a uniform position. The industry’s main trade association, Airlines for America, supported the decision in a statement.
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who had pressed for the change, praised the announcement as well. “This is great news for the traveling public,” she said in a statement, “and frankly, a win for common sense.”
The president of the Association of Flight Attendants, Veda Shook, said the change was “welcome news.”
“We’re not going to run away from technology,” she said, “but we’re not going to run away from safety, either.” Flight attendants would be relieved of the job of making passengers turn off their devices when the plane descended, she added, but they would have to enforce new rules about what had to be stored under a seat or in an overhead bin, and what could be held or put in a seat back pocket.
She said she hoped the rules would be uniform across the airlines, to minimize confusion among passengers
And, she said, the old rules were still in force now, although she added, “I’m pretty sure people are going to think they can do this today.”
The new rule applies to all United States carriers. The European Aviation Safety Agency, which participated on the F.A.A. review panel, said on Thursday it would analyze the decision before clarifying its own policy.
“The position the F.A.A. announced today is actually a step in the direction of the way it works in Europe,” Dominique Fouda, a spokesman for the European agency in Cologne, said in an email. In Europe, he said, “there is per se no ban” on the use of mobile phones and other personal electronic devices. Rather, it is the responsibility of the airlines to demonstrate that they do not interfere with cockpit equipment.
One winner in the new policy is Amazon, which makes the Kindle e-book reader and whose representative worked on the F.A.A. panel that made the recommendation. Drew Herdener, a spokesman, said: “We’ve been fighting for our customers on this issue for years — testing an airplane packed full of Kindles, working with the F.A.A. and serving as the device manufacturer on this committee. This is a big win for customers and, frankly, it’s about time.”Nicola Clark contributed reporting from Paris.http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/01/business/passengers-to-be-free-to-use-electronics-on-flights-faa-says.html?ref=technology&_r=0