On October 31st, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that airline passengers will soon be able to use their portable electronic devices during flight – with some restrictions. The changes won’t happen immediately because each airline has to independently certify its fleet and procedures.
Mose organizations, including the airlines, flight attendants, and business travelers, welcome the change (with a few exceptions). Let’s take a look at what these changes will mean for travelers.
Prior to the existence of handheld devices like smartphones, we had portable devices like AM/FM radios and televisions. The signal processing in those devices emitted a radio frequency signal that could cause noise interference between those in the aircraft cockpit and the navigation teams in airport towers. Ultimately, it was a matter of safety because those communications between the cockpits and air traffic control towers made sure that planes full of passengers and crew did not crash into each other while taking off and landing (among other dangers).
Why the 10,000-foot rule? Above 10,000 feet, the communications that control the business of flying is all internal to the plane – between the cockpit and crew. Below 10,000 feet, the flight communications are both internal and external – between the cockpit and air traffic control. The recent reversal of the FAA’s long-standing ruling that electronic device usage during takeoff and landing posed a safety issue is thanks to evolutions in digital technology.
It’s important to note that the FAA ruling changes will be individually approved and implemented by the airlines who will continue to require that devices are in airplane mode. This means the electronic device’s signal transmitting functions are suspended, i.e., it can’t send or receive calls or text messages.
Travelers can still use their devices to do any other function that doesn’t require signal transmission, including playing games, reading, watching movies, etc. With regard to future evolutions of electronic devices, it would be an exceptional feature to have devices automatically go into airplane mode once the passenger boards, don’t you think?
The recent ruling does include an exception for flights that are occurring in low visibility. Only about 1% of flights will fall into this category but in cases of low visibility, the landing systems may not prove to be tolerant to the use of personal electronic devices which may have to be turned off.
The airline pilots union wasn’t happy about this because it means relying on traveler compliance in cases of extremely poor weather. Then again, many passengers admit to not turning off their devices now so these situations will likely require some familiar methods of crowd control, including enforcement through crew announcements, stalking the aisles, and peer passenger pressure.
The electronics manufacturers were quick to add their support for the easing of restrictions and declaring that the use of personal electronics was part of an enjoyable passenger experience. The easing of restrictions is likely to cause an upsurge of travelers carrying more devices than before and it’s important that travelers understand the risks and protect themselves from financial losses with these recommendations:
In the end, it’s important to look at your electronics and determine how they expose you to risk and how much money you could lose if they are lost or stolen. Depending on how much you spent on each device and how much you are willing to lose, getting the right coverage can make it easier to replace them.
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.