New FAA Rules on Electronic Devices Set to Take Off

By Brett Snider, Esq. on September 23, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The FAA is poised to change the rules on electronic devices in flight in order to keep up with the ever-increasing popularity of tablets and e-readers on planes.

An advisory panel for the Federal Aviation Administration is set to convene to discuss relaxing its rigid restrictions for many passenger-popular gadgets, The New York Times reports. A decision by the panel could potentially allow passengers to watch movies and listen to podcasts during takeoff and landing, if their digital devices aren't connected to Wi-Fi.

Could these new rules mean the end of smartphone tyranny in the air?

Present Ban on Electronic Devices

Currently, the FAA's policy practically prohibits the use of any electronic device during takeoff and landing, with some airlines choosing to publicly shame their passengers when they ignore the request to power down, reports the Times.

These same rules also caused actor Alec Baldwin to be kicked off an American Airlines flight in 2011 for playing "Words With Friends" on his smartphone.

Many Americans sympathize with Baldwin; it is difficult to understand the FAA's policy on electronic devices when a smartphone placed in "airplane" mode is just not good enough. We understand why laser pointers are not safe, but did every smartphone designer include an "airplane" mode simply to frustrate passengers?

According to the Times, pilots have reported "hundreds of instances" where "they suspect electronic devices caused some cockpit instruments to malfunction," but there has never been a conclusive, scientific study to support these claims.

Despite the actual evidence, these rules -- which have been in place since the 1960s -- have become increasing "untenable," reports The Wall Street Journal, as more passengers openly flout the rules.

Proposed Changes

The FAA hopes to change that with these new recommended guidelines for in-flight device use, possibly allowing passengers at low elevations to:

  • Use e-readers and tablets,
  • Listen to MP3 players,
  • Watch movies on a laptop or mobile device, or
  • Play handheld games.

Whatever the rule change, it will not include any allowance for using cell data (e.g., phone calls, texting, etc.) because of separate Federal Communications Commission rules which ban the use of certain frequencies in the air.

The new FAA regulations, if approved, could go into effect by next year, according to the Times. So you may still need to wait until after Christmas to play Angry Birds during takeoff.

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