The FAA will allow the use of readers and games throughout flights although smartphone and tablet use seem to be at the discretion of the airlines. In all cases it will still be prohibited to connect to the internet below 10,000 feet. As is the case now, voice calls will not be allowed.
The FAA expects these changes to take place by year’s end. "We believe today's decision honors both our commitment to safety and consumers' increasing desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of flight," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
The prohibition against electronics began decades ago because of concerns about interference with cockpit communications and navigation equipment. But passengers have sought easier use of their gadgets as electronics become more widespread and as aircraft equipment has become less susceptible to stray signals.
Consumer groups and lawmakers such as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., have argued that electronic readers are no more dangerous than books during takeoff and landing.
In 2008, I pointed out how ridiculous the arbitrary changes to gadget policy were and how gadgets do not interfere with airline electronics. The idea is there are radio signals around us. Satellite, FM and AM radio, cellular and more and these radio waves can’t be turned off. Why would radio waves that happen to be emanating from the plane cause a problem? I also found it ironic that radio signals on devices had to be off until airlines found a way to charge for WiFi. Then the FAA changed the rules.
In 2011 I wrote another piece Enough With the Airplane Gadget Ban – here is an excerpt:
Moreover, it is quite common for passengers to forget to turn off their electronics such as bluetooth headsets and cellphones on planes and to date there haven’t been issues caused from these mistakes.
The point is the FAA seems to slowly be coming around to reason and I expect at some point you will also be able to use the internet at any altitude. For now, we have to accept these baby steps towards what seems to be the inevitable future of always-connected airplanes.