We all know the drill: you get to the airport, check in, get your boarding pass, wait in a lengthy security line where you have to take your shoes and belt off and empty your pockets (and don’t even try to bring that water), find your gate, and grab a seat at the gate away from people blabbering on cell phones and screaming babies. Then you join the maddening clump of people who aren’t even pretending to be civil as they start to board. By the time you get to your seat you’re already exhausted, and if you’re like me, the only thing you want to do is to put your earphones in and drown out the noise. Maybe you want to watch something on your iPad or laptop, or read something on your Kindle. But just as you get into your book, movie, or song, a flight attendant tells you to please turn off and stow all your electric devices for take-off, and all of the babies on the flight start crying simultaneously as soon as everyone has no choice but to hear them. Enjoy you flight. Part of this routine, however, may soon change.
I remember once reaching into my backpack halfway through a flight and realizing I hadn’t shut my phone off. I looked around furtively, hoping no one would notice, but then I thought—hey, we took off a couple hours ago and nothing happened. I guess it doesn’t matter that I left my phone on…does it? The answer, as we’ve all suspected for some time, is that nope, it doesn’t matter one bit whether any of your devices are on when the plane takes off, flies, or lands. And today, the FAA confirmed as much.
The FAA does note that “implementation will vary among airlines,” but that most commercial carriers will likely allow the use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) from start to finish before the end of the year. The big exception remains cell phones, which will still need to be in airplane mode or have service disabled, as FCC regulations don’t allow cell phone calls while in the air. Thank god for that—I can’t imagine anything more annoying than being trapped in a small cabin with a bunch of people yapping on their phones. Still, I’m sure people will complain about not being allowed to text while mid-air. That already happens enough before take-off and after landing. Passengers will still have to wait until the plane has reached 10,000 feet before using airline-provided WiFi services or playing Words With Friends.
The FAA considered a bunch of information and testing conducted by external organizations, such as the PED Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which believes that commercial airplanes can safely handle any radio signals or interference from PEDs. The FAA will distribute criteria and verification procedures so each airline can test its own fleet’s capacity to tolerate such interference. Delta is the first airline to announce that its crafts are, at this moment, PED tolerant, and that all flights will be ready before the year is up. They’ll get some competition from JetBlue, who says they hope to be the first airline to actually implement the new FAA-endorsed freedoms.