FAA To Allow Electronic Devices Throughout Flights

Change of policy that critics saw as comically out-of-date

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No more flight attendants nagging you to put away that iPad before takeoff.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday that it will soon allow passengers to use electronic devices like e-readers and tablets throughout the entirety of flights, including during takeoff and landing, when such devices currently have to be stowed away. Passengers can also use cell phones set to airplane mode, although phone calls are still a no-no.

“I am pleased to announce that airlines can safely expand passenger use of portable electronic devices during all phases of flight,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta at a news conference. He said the agency will work with airlines to implement the policy by the end of the year.

For about 50 years, the FAA has had in place a policy banning electronic devices when planes are below 10,000 feet, fearful that signals emitted from the devices could interfere with communication and navigation systems. But consumers and lawmakers have been increasingly frustrated by the rules, viewing them as comically out-of-date for the modern, plugged-in society, and not supported by any evidence that the devices actually present any danger.

A panel commissioned last year to review the effects of electrical interference on air travel found that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference from portable electronic devices, Huerta said.

Delta Air Lines quickly announced Thursday that it had already submitted a plan  to the FAA to allow passengers to use their devices. The carrier said it hopes to implement the change on its flights by  Friday.

The new regulations do not lift the ban on cell phone calls during flights. Passengers can still only access the Internet if the plane has an in-flight WiFi system. But tablets, e-readers or phones with books, music, video and other media downloaded before flights can be used from takeoff until landing. Larger electronic devices, like laptop computers and DVD players, will still have to be stowed under seats or in overhead bins during takeoff and landing.

Airlines will be able to ask passengers to turn off their electronic equipment in case of low visibility conditions, representing about 1 percent of flights, because some landing systems have not been proven to tolerate electrical interference, the FAA said.

Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has advocated changing the policy, applauded the FAA move.

“This is great news for the traveling public-and frankly, a win for common sense,” McCaskill said in a statement.