First, you have to know what the FAA defines as a personal electronic device. These are smaller electronics devices such as a tablet, e-reader, smartphones, personal media players, portable gaming devices and “eletronic toys”. So you netbook or ultrabook that might be just as small as a large tablet is not included on the list. The reason for this has to do with the devices size and not how they are used. Essentially, they want heavier objects to be stowed to prevent them from becoming a hazard during takeoff and landings. Of course, a larger 10-inch tablet can be just as much of a problem as a small laptop.
Airlines Must Verify Fleet Eligibility
This is what will delay the implementation of the new policy. Essentially, each airline must certify that its fleet of planes will not be impacted by the potential interference from potentially allowed PEDs. The FAA will provide the airlines the guidelines for testing their planes but it is still up to the airlines to take the time to do this.
Cellular/Wireless Still Restricted
Even though you may use a smartphone device or wireless equipped tablet, all cellular or wireless services still must be disabled during the flight. This means that your device needs to be turned into airplane mode. This is going to be the toughest of the measures to implement. Essentially, flight crews are going to have to be able to distinguish devices to determine if they are eligible for use and that they are turned into the proper modes. After all, there are still lots of people who forget to turn their phones off when they board a plane.
Things get a bit more confusing when there is Wi-Fi also enabled on a plane. Wi-Fi networking for some devices needs to be disabled while others are allowed to use it. In addition, some older devices when in Airplane mode will disable the Wi-Fi and cellular or wireless making it even more challenging for passengers and crew to determine if the devices are properly setup.
What Does It All Mean?
Starting sometime next year, airlines will probably start rolling out their new in-flight electronics use. The reason for this delay is that verification process that has to be done by the airlines. In addition, all of their new policies will have to be documented in the safety cards and flight policies. All of this will take some time. In fact, some airlines may just end up ignoring this all together and sticking with the previous rule of no electronics to make it easier for their flight crews and to bypass having to verify their fleet is compliant.
It is important that flyers pay attention to any policies and safety instructions by the flight crew as well. Even though the use of portable electronics is improving, the crew can ask that they be turned off and stowed at any time. This is especially true if they think flight conditions (aka weather) may make those devices a danger to passengers. So if a crew member asks you to turn it off and put it away, you still have to.
If you are interested in looking at the specifics, check out the FAA’s page on that was updated today.