The FAA Rethinking That Whole Ban On Smartphone Usage In Flight Thing, Finally

There are two camps of people on flights — those who listen to the flight attendants when they’re told to turn off all electronic devices during takeoff and landing, and those who think the rule is hogwash and refuse to disconnect from the wireless world until they’re forced to. That second group is probably pleased as punch to hear then, that the Federal Aviation Administration is taking another gander at its rules about smartphones and other electronics, while still firmly to its ban on in-flight phone calls.

The FAA says it’s going to study up and check into the policies currently as place, look at its testing methods and what technological standards are with the help of a government-industry group, reports Bloomberg.

“We’re looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today’s aircraft,” Michael Huerta, acting FAA administrator, said in the release.

The group is going to do its research for six months before reporting back to the FAA, and won’t even touch the idea of using phones to make voice calls during the flight. Which is probably still just fine with the majority of travelers who don’t want their neighbors yakking away for a five-hour flight.

Currently, FAA rules state that airlines have to make sure any radio-frequency interference from electronic devices won’t mess up the systems used to fly the plane, but that testing is expensive and would be a hard undertaking. Few have attempted to even start such studies, until now.

“The safety of our passengers and crews remains our top priority and our members will work cooperatively with the FAA on opportunities to evaluate personal electronic devices to ensure customers can use these products safely during flight,” Steve Lott, a spokesman for Airlines for America, said in an e-mail.

But now it seems the ball is rolling, and it could just end up rolling favorably for travelers and making it actually legal to be using iPads to take photos of bird strikes from the air or Instagramming some wacky cloud formations that everyone must see immediately.

Consumerist reader Dov points out that the FAA wants to know how you feel about this situation, with a few ways it’s offering to weigh in: Email your comments to; check out the Federal eRulemaking Portal at; mail a letter to Docket Operations, M-30; U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001 or hey, even fax to Docket Operations at 202-493-2251.

Previously: Federal Aviation Administration Might Let You Keep Your Kindle On

FAA To Study Smartphone Use While In-Flight Calls Banned [Bloomberg]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    If nothing else, allowing cell phone calls would make many people stop flying altogether. As terrible an experience flying is, at least it’s done relatively quietly.

    • redskull says:

      Yep. Looks like air travel’s transformation from “elegant form of transportation” to “flying city bus” is now complete.

    • Anathema777 says:

      I suppose that’s why the group ” won’t even touch the idea of using phones to make voice calls during the flight.”

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        I was echoing their sentiment in greater detail, yes.

    • bdgbill says:

      Here, here. I can only barely tolerate flying as it is and will happily drive 800 miles to avoid it when I can. I simply couldn’t do it if I had to listen to 200 cell phone conversations for the whole flight.

      Allowing people to use their iPods, Kindles etc has the opposite effect however. People who may otherwise be jabbering away at each other are silently gazing into their screens and bothering nobody.

      • Psychicsword says:

        “the Federal Aviation Administration is taking another gander at its rules about smartphones and other electronics, while still firmly to its ban on in-flight phone calls”

    • who? says:

      There’s some logistical problems with allowing in-flight mobile calls that have little to do with the safety of the flight. The problems have more to do with the fact that the cellular network was designed for people on the ground, traveling at ground speeds, and having a bunch of people in airplanes trying to connect to the cell towers on the ground would do crazy things to the cell network. If the plane had mobile antennas on it for the phones to connect to, that would be a different thing, however…

  2. Hummus_Smoothie says:

    I’m hoping certain airlines still ban the usage of cell phones if for no other reason than flying is crappy enough without having to listen to everyone else’s phone conversations, personalized ringtones, and message notifications.

  3. selianth says:

    I just want to be able to continue reading my Nook (which is wifi only and I keep it in airplane mode all the time anyway) during takeoff and landing. That’s all I ask.

    • cromartie says:

      Seconded. I’d also like to be able to listen to music and leave my noise cancelling headphones on during the loudest part of the flight.

      • JollySith says:

        You should know that the loudest part of the flight is also the most dangerous. Exactly when you need to be the most aware of what is going on and what the Pilot FA is telling you.

        • Jay911 says:

          You know what, I know how to put on a seat belt, and they haven’t moved the locations of exits on airplanes in the 40 years I’ve been around. I don’t smoke, so the “highly sensitive smoke detectors in the washrooms” are irrelevant to me, and I know how to GTFO if the sewage hits the fan. I’m a very attentive guy and I know how to recognize an emergency and react to it. Leave me alone and let me read my (e-)book in peace.

        • Mr_Magoo says:

          That has nothing to do with the ban on electronics. If it did, then nobody would be able to read a book during takeoffs and landings, and the FAs would go around waking everybody up before takeoffs and landings.

        • who? says:

          You should also know that I can hear what’s going on just fine, even with my noise canceling headphones on. Actually I can hear things better without all that airplane noise in my ears.

          • Jack says:

            I knew a little bit about the way noise cancelling headphones work but your comment prompted me to do some research and I found this on Wikipedia:

            “Research examining the benefits of noise cancelling headphones in the aviation environment has found that compared to passive noise attenuating headphones or no headphones, noise cancelling headphones significantly increases the signal to noise ratio, making hearing important information such as safety announcements easier. “

    • Coffee says:

      Yup…same with my Kindle…the thing uses almost no power at all (a pittance a page turn) when the WiFi is turned off, and I can’t imagine how it affects anything at all. I do turn the thing off during taxi and landing, but those few minutes when I have to flip through the inflight magazine can really drag.

      • kevinroyalty says:

        yes, my kindle 3 wifi model also uses little power (only when the page turn is hit) with wifi disabled. i’d love to be able to use this during takeoff/landing rather than touch the ratty magazine that may or may not be in the seatback in front of me.

        • Coffee says:

          Yup, but I know that rules are rules, especially where air travel is concerned, to I suck it up and do what they say because…you know…jail and stuff.

      • Geekybiker says:

        Me rubbing my socks on the carpet probably generates more electricity than a kindle uses.

      • selianth says:

        Plus I swear to god I’m always getting to the MOST EXCITING PART of my books when I’m supposed to be turning it off. I don’t know how this can happen every time I’m on a plane but somehow it does. The inflight magazines cannot tell me who the killer is, dammit.

      • who? says:

        The lightbulb I have to turn on to read a paper magazine probably causes more interference than a kindle does.

    • euph_22 says:

      I just want the people between me and the emergency exits to be aware of their surroundings and know how to work the door, so I have a chance of getting out of an emergency alive. Is that too much to ask?

      (this mostly has to do with the headphone comment, not the ebooks)

  4. George4478 says:

    I don’t find shutting off my phone nearly as annoying as having to turn off my completely-disconnected-from-the-wireless-world Kindle.

    I am pleased to see on the info sheet in the in-flight magazine that a person is allowed to keep their pacemaker on during a flight. I’d hate to have to slice open grandpa’s chest.

  5. dullard says:

    It’s fascinating to me that so many people can’t bear the thought of being unable to make or receive a telephone call for a few hours.

    • Mr_Magoo says:

      Please read before posting. This has nothing to do with phone use: …won’t even touch the idea of using phones to make voice calls during the flight

      • dullard says:

        I did read before posting.

        The article makes reference to “…the majority of travelers who don’t want their neighbors yakking away for a five-hour flight.”

        My post was in response to that statement.

    • edman007 says:

      You’d have other problems trying to make phone calls too, I doubt you would get a decent signal in the plane. For most people I think the real issue is they want to do what they due at altitude during the whole flight, I find it hard to beleive that playing angry birds on my phone at 15000 ft is any more dangerous than playing it at 5000 ft.

  6. Southern says:

    Without a repeater on board, would a cell phone even WORK at 30,000 feet? Even if you could get a signal, you would be switching towers every 10 seconds…

    • Jay911 says:

      And this (and this alone) is why cell phones were originally banned. Not any safety concerns, not any “affecting the airplane controls” concerns. Telcos didn’t want ~200 phones negotiating handoffs with 40 towers apiece constantly (and IMO rightly so).

  7. Sean says:

    Recently a young lady with autism that uses an iPad as a communication device (which is allowed under regulations) was asked to turn off her iPad. This is the only way she can communicate. She also has a seizure disorder and can tell when a seizure is coming on. They pilot told them after the flight that the rules are ridiculous.

    • Jay911 says:

      I’m disappointed that Consumerist didn’t pick up Carly’s story. I have an autistic niece who uses an iPad for communication as well (though not nearly to Carly’s extent) and is scheduled to fly across the country in a month. I cringe for what her mother is going to have to go through because of these asinine overreactions about electronics on the part of the airlines/air “safety”/administration agencies.

  8. twritersf says:

    There is zero scientific evidence that the tiny emissions from electronic devices affect the hardened electronic and navigational circuitry in jetliners. Yet airlines keep up the dishonest scare tactics because it’s the only way they can establish power over passengers.

    • Kuri says:

      Hell, the Mythbusters tested this rather extensively, on an older aircraft no less, and proved what you said as fact.

      I’d trust that group of special effects artists over the people making these asinine rules.

    • edman007 says:

      Personally I’m far more worried about electronics on the ground, GSM phones can and do feed noise into audio circuits, and they can and do intefear, to some extent, with the radio. Everyone has heard that beeping from cell phones too near audio equipment and you get a loud beep/pulsing sound through the speakers. It’s caused by poorly sheilded audio electronics, this beep can intefear with communication to the tower, meaning a safety warning from the tower might not be heard, this is VERY important when the piolet is on the ground, and asking for clearance to do things like cross a runway, right after landing, but somehow the FAA tells pasengers they can turn on their phone right then

      Generally commecial planes have high quality electronics, so this isn’t much of an issue, but I think it’s a bigger issue than phones messing with the flight systems.

      • Leohat says:

        I’m gonna have to go with

      • Overman says:

        Its called Inductive Reactance, and there is a chance that it will conduct micro-voltage down the air frame. A small amount COULD cause a glitch in the automated systems that
        compensate for variables in flight conditions during take off and landing.
        There is no place for voltage to ground out in a plane.
        To date, no incident has ever been reported that can be diretly linked to RF interference.
        Lets keep it that way.
        Self indulgent people can’t be bothered to shelve their toys for 15 minutes.
        Its really about having to follow rules that impede self gratification.

  9. Kuri says:

    This made me think of that Simpsons episode where Bart was told to turn off his Gameboy on a plane, and the second he did the plane went down.

  10. karlmarx says:

    I would like to use wifi with my laptop, and if I want to make a phone there could be a permitted area to use your phone perhaps. Are planes are not very pleasant to fly with all the space they give you and perhaps they could remodel them to allow for Wi Fi. For longer flights more space an area for phone calls too.

  11. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Leave it on, but PUT IT IN THE DAMN POCKET during takeoff and landing. I do not want your stupid iPhone to hit me in the head if the captain slams on the brakes! And yes, I do put my book away!

    THE END!