SeaTac, Wash. - The FAA decided Thursday it will no longer require passengers to turn off all electronic devices during take-off and landing. Passengers will be able to use smartphones and tablets as long as they are in airplane mode, but talking on the phone and texting will still be banned. The FAA will review each airline's plan demonstrating how it has tested its airplanes and will implement the changes in manuals and safety announcements. It's a move that may have most passengers celebrating, but some flight attendants are voicing their concern about how the rules will be enforced.
JetBlue immediately filed its plan. Delta, the second-biggest carrier at Sea-Tac, wants to be next. KIRO 7 asked how long it could take Alaska Airlines. "We're going to work on this as soon as possible. The question mark is how long it could take the FAA to approve any airlines' plan," Paul McElroy, spokesperson for Alaska Airlines, said.
Seattle companies have been pushing for expanded device use and wireless capabilities in flight. Last December, Boeing used giant sacks of potatoes to work on improvements to in-flight WiFi. Potatoes interact with electronic signals in a similar way to humans.
Amazon has also lobbied in favor of more device time. But flight attendants like Terry Taylor with AFA-CWA, Alaska Airlines Flight Attendants, have their concerns. "It may create more problems than it solves," she said. She points out it's impossible to tell if people's phones are really in airplane mode without asking them.
Representatives with other national flight attendants unions also worry the changes could cause more confrontations with passengers. Taylor understands the concerns. "The more we open it, the more likely they are to want to use everything, all the capabilities," she said. Airlines will also likely not receive approval at the same time, so passengers may be frustrated by different rules on different flights.
Taylor stresses that the rules and how they're enforced will need to be clear before the FAA grants approval to any airline. The Association of Flight Attendants said it will work alongside the FAA in the roll-out process. Currently, passengers are required to turn off their smartphones, tablets and other devices once a plane's door closes. They're not supposed to restart them until the planes reach 10,000 feet and the captain gives the go-ahead. Passengers are supposed to turn their devices off again as the plane descends to land and not restart them until it is on the ground. Passengers will also be able to connect to the Internet to surf, exchange emails, or download data below 10,000 feet if the plane has an installed WiFi system, but not through cellular networks. Heavier devices such as laptops will continue to have to be stowed away because of concern they might injure someone if they go flying around the cabin. "I think next we're all able to get reception in the air and make phone calls," Jack Liu said.