02
Oct
airplane

We've all been there: for 20 minutes during takeoff and landing, the cabin of an American airliner becomes a virtual Faraday cage as every passenger is told to turn off everything with a battery, from the latest Android superphones to the humble Game Boy. This practice has been heavily criticized in the last few years, and there's finally some real movement towards tossing it out the window. The Wall Street Journal reports that a Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel has recommended approving electronic devices for use during takeoff and landing, including WiFi data access.

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Photo credit: Alex Pang

Current restrictions ban basically all consumer electronics devices from being used below an altitude of 10,000 feet for fear of interfering with the plane's electronic instrumentation. According to the advisory panel, modern aircraft are so well-shielded that there's no realistic way that a smartphone, tablet, or e-reader would be able to interfere with critical airplane systems. The panel still advises that standard cellular connections (voice, 3G, and LTE data) should remain off-limits due to concerns about interfering with ground communications. The panel urged the FAA to work with the FCC to look into the realistic dangers, or lack thereof, of cellular signals. The panel also recommended keeping the restriction on laptop computers, as their hefty weight could be dangerous if they were to fly through the cabin in an emergency.

Allowing WiFi access is a nice perk, but realistically the ability to use electronic devices themselves is the real win here. In-flight WiFi is still only available on about 60% of domestic flights, and it's usually so expensive that for a 1-3 hour flight it simply isn't worth it. GoGo WiFi (the largest provider for American flights) doesn't even work below 10,000 feet anyway because its system uses terrestrial towers. The ability to work or consume entertainment during the takeoff and landing period is much more valuable (to me, at least) than the ability to surf the web or check email. No more leafing through SkyMall or packing a dog-eared paperback! 

With this recommendation and a few more rounds of testing, the FAA could move to change the electronics restriction in less than a year - possibly even before the end of 2013. "Our assumption is it's not years, but months," said Paul Misener, Amazon's CP of global public policy. It looks like the FAA is finally taking real, meaningful steps towards gate-to-gate electronic use for passengers.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • Nadia Taylor

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  • Ian Fay

    Considering it was proven totally nonsense years ago, it's about time they've gotten on this.

  • George Fayad

    Having just flown on thursday, i can say with pretty strong confidence that no one turns anything off. They simply just turn off the screen and put it in their pocket.

    • Matthew Fry

      Back in the days of Windows Mobile and volatile I fought with a flight attendant about turning off my phone. I turned airplane mode on and turned the screen off and she said, "No, sir. All the way off." I explained that if I did that, I would lose everything on the phone. She insisted. I refused. I again explained that for all intents and purposes, it's off. It's not sending any signals; it's in my pocket; it will erase everything if I power it off. She finally huffed and gave up, moving to another passenger to bug them about something.

      • George Fayad

        Yeah the attendant on one of my flights in particular made a point to say "Please turn all electronic devices off. Not standby and not airplane mode. If your device has airplane mode, it is only for use above 10,000 feet"
        I chuckled quietly a little bit, then put my phone in airplane mode and turned the screen off. We didn't crash.

        • Matthew Fry

          Yup. That's the new mantra. If it has a power switch it needs to be completely powered down because... we like feeling powerful and acting like assholes.

        • BetterWithRoot

          I was informed that my noise cancelling headphones needed to be turned off. They had an LED light that turned on when it was activating the external mic. After I showed them it was not connected to anything, I was informed that I had to remove them from my head.

          "Nothing can be powered on during landing."

  • Alan Shearer

    possibly even before the end of 2013? depends on if congress approves the budget first. :P can the children stop fighting?

  • bsinc1962

    probably a dumb question but is there any way to shut off the carrier network but leave WiFi on? Flight mode kills both carrier and WiFi

    • B E

      go to flight mode first, then turn on only your wifi

      • bsinc1962

        Thanks, I knew it had to be something simple.

  • http://www.youtube.com/crisr82 Kristian Ivanov

    Dead US airline service providers - "Airplane mode" exists in phones for the last...god knows how many years.
    Yours truly, the people with common sense.

  • spydie

    Terrestrial that don't work below 10,000 feet? awww, come on. First of all nothing is going to happen with the government shut down. Secondly, they are still a bunch of idiots. There's no way the 3G/LTE signal can interfere with aircraft communications... they are on completely different frequencies, so far apart that it would be scientifically impossible. But it's the government, and they'll never understand about pissing in the wind.

    • newyorker20103

      Acctually, That Plus over-the-air towers won't tramsit wi-fi outside of the US. I was at Delta Air Lines from JFK to STI and as we fly away from the Virgina Coast, there was no more wi-fi.

  • Armus

    I've always said a cell phone transmits so little power that there was no way it could crash a plane. Of course the FAA is fill of civil engineers who usually have their heads up their butts, so anything electronic is going to be overblown.

    • Freak4Dell

      Yeah, the argument never made sense in the first place. Not only are the frequencies different, but turning off the tiny weak radio in a cell phone doesn't do a damn thing to stop the constantly flowing powerful waves emitted from cell phone towers that are all over the ground. If cellular or WiFi waves were going to crash a plane, it would have happened by now.

  • http://meatcastle.com/ Youre My Boy Bloo

    Hey guys... This is a government agency here. Let's not forget that in their raging incompetence they may somehow allow the use of WiFi during takeoff and landing, while still upholding the ban on using electronics...

  • Scott Kennedy

    The 10,000 feet limit is not a technical limitation. When the aircraft is above 10,000 feet, you're allowed to use electronic devices. When you're below 10,000 feet, you're not. To ensure you adhere to that restriction, they disable wifi when you're below this threshold.

    If you're allowed to use electronic devices the whole time, I can almost guarantee that 10,000 foot restriction on wifi will disappear.

    • Matthew Fry

      If laptops are still disallowed because they're a 6 lb unsecured bashing implement during the most bumpy part of the ride, it might not.

      • Scott Kennedy

        I don't know if you've ever been hit with the spine of a book, but it doesn't take a flying laptop to cause serious damage =P

  • MJ

    They should keep the 20 minute "turn off all devices" rule on takeoffs and landings. But not because some device may interfere with aircraft communication... Taking a plane is the only time many people get to experience the new found joy of not having any of their personal electronics on.

    • Matthew Fry

      Heaven forbid they lift the restriction and give people a distraction from watching the plane take off and land whilst tensely grasping the armrests, completely sure that, today, the miracle of flight will fail and they will die horrifically. Yes. Let's definitely keep that. Let's also keep the blissful extra 20 minutes of waiting and hearing "We're number 8 in line. I promise we'll be up shortly," while sitting on the tarmac. Lets discourage those miscreants with their listening devices who don't want to strike up a boring and random conversation with the person next to them and just sit quietly and listen to music or audiobooks or are just reading on what happens to be a screen instead of paper.

      • MJ

        Wow, you are up to four comments now about how horrible it is to have to turn your shit off for 20 minutes. I hate to see how many comments you would have posted if the issue at hand was something really inconvenient or actually important. Adjust the meds man...

        • Matthew Fry

          *sigh* Your argument is so much more valid now that you're attacking my character.

          • MJ

            I merely shared my very valid viewpoint on the issue and didn't respond to any particular comment here. You choose to reply to me with a sarcastic rant. I am guilty of mocking your misplaced passion for the issue but not your character.

            Sorry you are not a winner today but thanks for playing...

  • Qliphah

    But now what are they going to have the scripted theatre attendants complain about now? How will they make the average customer feel belittled and have their intelligence questioned everytime they fly? Oh well, guess those TSA agents on the ground will have to work harder to embarrass and objectify the normal paying customers now.

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  • Jose Torres

    So you mean to tell me that the FAA hasn't shut down yet?

  • x3go
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