The FAA announced this morning that it is immediately providing guidance to the airlines on how to go through the process of demonstrating that their aircraft can safely handle radio interference from portable electronics. Once a carrier has done so, it can allow passengers to use certain devices in airplane mode in most in-flight situations.
However, airplane pilots will still have the authority to tell passengers to turn off these devices in cases like making a landing in reduced visibility. And passengers are still required to abide by the instructions of a flight’s crew members, so if they say “off with your tablet,” that tablet should go off.
Again, these new guidelines do not mean you can use your phone to make calls in mid-flight. Mobile phones will be allowed, but they must be turned to airplane mode, meaning you can’t use them to make calls at any point after you pull back from the gate. This is an FCC regulation that the FAA has no authority to change. If the plane offers in-flight WiFi service, you can turn on your device’s WiFi connection and go online that way.
The FAA is also requiring that all portable electronic devices are held by the passenger or temporarily placed in seat back pockets during takeoff and landing. Laptops are still expected to be stowed with your carry-on bags until after takeoff is complete, as they are still considered a potential safety risk — not because of signal interference, but because of their size. The FAA likens the laptop rule to its reason for requiring that tray tables be put away; they could inhibit exit from seats in case of an emergency.
The FAA provides no hard timeline for how long the implementation will last, but the agency expects that it will take several months for most airlines to complete the non-interference vetting process.