FAA Panel: You Should Be Able To Use Smartphone On Planes, As Long As You Don’t Use The ‘Phone’ Part

Travelers were hopeful last week when news came down that an FAA panel would soon be recommending that the use of smartphones be allowed during takeoffs and landings of commercial flights. Those recommendations have finally come through, but don’t get all excited and think that you’ll be using your phone to text or chat through the flight.

The panel recommends that you be able to listen to music, read e-books, and watch stored videos on your devices, even at altitudes below 10,000 feet. Some of a smartphone’s core functions — calling, texting, e-mailing, and web-browsing — will still be restricted. You’ll be able to go online once the plane has climbed above 10,000 feet but calling is still a no-no once that cabin door is shut.

It has to be noted that cellphone voice communication was not part of the FAA panel’s study, as that ban against their use in-flight is an FCC regulation intended to prevent interference with cell towers.

It’s now in the hands of FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to decide whether to heed the panel’s recommendations, and if so, how and when to implement them. The changes could kick in as soon as 2014, depending on how quickly airlines can demonstrate that their planes are not susceptible to electromagnetic interference from wireless devices.

“Anytime you have a rule that appears to be about safety but it is widely ignored, it undermines the importance of other rules about safety,” Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, who has been pushing the FAA to take its head out of the sand on this topic, said in a statement. “If people are being told to do things because it keeps the public safe, there needs to be solid scientific data that supports that, and clearly that was not the case with this prohibition.”

F.A.A. Panel Backs Easing of Device Rules [NY Times]