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Yes, You Can Use Electronics During Takeoff and Landing: What You Need to Know

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Regulatory agencies in the US, Canada, and Europe now allow you to use electronics during takeoff and landing. This is called “gate-to-gate” device use — you could be using a device the entire time you’re on an airplane.

If you’ve ever been forced to put away your Kindle or tablet and found yourself looking longingly at the person next to you reading a paper book or newspaper, you’ll be relieved to know those days are behind us.

Each Airline Can Set Its Own Rules

Each airline can set its own rules. The US FAA and other countries’ regulatory agencies don’t set rules that apply to all airlines. Instead, they allow airlines to choose to implement this change, if they like. Airlines want to keep their customers happy, so they’re quickly hopping on board and allowing gate-to-gate device use.

Don’t be surprised if each airline’s rules are a bit different, or if you end up on a smaller or foreign airline that still won’t allow you to use devices during take-off and landing. You’ll be told if you have to put your devices away.

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Portable Electronic Devices vs. Larger Devices

There are different rules for smaller “portable electronic devices” and larger electronic devices. “Portable electronic devices” include smartphones, Kindles, handheld game consoles, and even iPad-size tablets. Basically any handheld device the size of an iPad or smaller is included here.

These smaller devices can be used during takeoff and landing as long as you hold them. If you don’t want to hold them, you can place them in the seat-back pocket — you don’t have to stow them securely in your bag. The device does have to be secure, but holding it on your hand is good enough. This means no propping up a tablet to watch videos, as it could fly off and hit someone in the head.

Laptops, DVD players, and other larger devices aren’t included in this change. These devices have to be safely stowed during take-off and landing — you can’t continue typing away on your laptop while the plane is taking off or landing. You can still take out and use your laptop during the main part of the flight.

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Yes, It Still Has to Be In Airplane Mode

Your devices still have to be in airplane mode. This means disabling the cellular signal on smartphones and mobile-data-enabled tablets. It also means disabling WI-Fi and Bluetooth, unless the airline offers in-flight Wi-Fi and allows you to turn the Wi-Fi on. While you can play mobile games on your smartphone during takeoff, you can’t send text messages, or have a phone conversation.

The US FCC is considering allowing cellular connectivity above 10,000 feet in the future, but no changes have yet been made. Even if this change goes through, you’d still need to use airplane mode during take-off and landing.

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Differences Between Countries

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The US FAA’s decision to allow electronics during take-off and landing is having ripple effects, with more and more countries following suit. You can also use devices during takeoff and landing in Canada and the European Union, for example.

If you’re flying to another country that doesn’t allow this, you may be asked to put away your devices when landing in their airspace. If you’re taking off from that country, you won’t be able to use devices during take-off — even if you’re on an airline that allows this in their home country.

If you’re on board a foreign airline whose home country doesn’t allow this, you likely won’t be allowed to use devices during take-off and landing — even if you’re taking off or landing in a country that allows you to use these devices. Yes, it’s all a bit complicated, but you’ll be told whether you need to put your devices away or not.

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You may still be asked to stow portable electronic devices sometimes. For example, you may still be asked to put away all your devices if there’s serious turbulence ahead — just as well, as you don’t want someone else’s iPad to hit you in the head.

Image Credit: Bradley Gordon on Flickr, Bernal Saborio on Flickr, NASA

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 08/3/14