"In preparation for landing, please do not worry about turning off your electronic devices."
An announcement like this may soon be coming to a plane near you, thanks to expected revisions in FAA policies governing the use of electronic devices while on board. These changes are being driven by a panel the FAA convened a year ago to study the impact of such devices on aircraft systems. The panel has, according to multiple reports, concluded their meetings and will officially present their findings next week. The FAA will issue a decision after a review period.
Once the review is complete the actual implementation of the changes could take months or longer, depending on whether a blanket approval is granted or if it is only on a per-airline or per-aircraft basis. It is expected by most that the FAA will accept the recommendations, in large part because they had their own staff participating along with industry and technology experts.
The expected recommendation is not going to be a carte blanche for passengers, however. There will still be some limitations on device operation below 10,000 feet. Rather than requiring devices be completely turned off at that level (the current rule) the new rule will allow for the devices only if they are in "flight mode," disabling the communication functions such as WiFi.
For passengers this means reading eBooks, watching movies, playing games, or working would now be allowed gate-to-gate rather than only while at cruising altitude. However, there will still be limits on talking or using data services.
Accountability is a major issue here. Flight attendants would have to become the electronics supervisors. Rather than checking to see if devices are powered off, they would potentially be responsible for checking that airplane mode is enabled. This raises the potential for more confrontations with confused (or defiant) passengers and also significantly increases the expectations for the onboard duties of flight attendants.
Airlines are mostly backing up the flight attendants, suggesting the hybrid solution is essentially unenforceable and will ultimately create more challenges with their passengers and crews than the current solution.
In the meantime, passengers will have to continue the complete powering down of their electronics, but at least there's some hope for a future where you can play solitaire straight from takeoff to landing.
Want to know the reasoning behind turning electronics off in-flight? Check out our earlier article explaining the rules while also pointing out their inconsistencies.
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