Cell phone use on planes expanded by FAA

Photo: Jay Westcott

ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) - Air travelers, rejoice: you'll soon be able to play games and watch video on your mobile device without interruption.

Passengers will soon be allowed to use their mobile phones to do a variety of tasks on flights from gate-to-gate, according to new guidelines issued Thursday to airlines nationwide. Watching videos, listening to music, reading e-books and playing games will all be allowed without interruption, according the new rules.

The switch comes after an advisory panel spent months studying the issue, finding under nearly all circumstances that the use of portable electronic devices – even during takeoff and landing – is actually not a safety issue.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices will be allowed -- however, the FAA says that travelers will still not be allowed to make phone calls or send text messages in flight, and phones must be in airplane mode. Devices must also be put into seatback pocket during takeoff and landing.

"I think it's a pretty sensible change," says D.C. resident Damaris Christensen. "I'm glad that people won't be able to talk on the phone."

"I think that's great as long as we don't have the phone calls, that would be really disruptive on the flight," agrees airline passenger Tom Hanley.

Hanley is passing through Reagan National Airport on his way to upstate New York. He’s looking forward to not having to power down his iPad Mini when he flies.

"I won't have to interrupt my novel in the middle of it and switch to the newspaper for take-off and landing," he says.

The FAA expects many airlines to be approved for the new policy by the end of the year, while Delta told ABC7 in a statement that they could be ready by the end of the week.

Airlines will first have to update onboard materials and manuals, and travelers should still expect to be asked to take a break from their devices for the required safety video.

"We believe today's decision honors both our commitment to safety and the consumer's desire to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flights," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

Individual airlines will be given the option to choose how it will implement the new rules on their own flights, officials say. Each airline will also have to prove that its fleet can tolerate radio interference that mobile devices may emit before they can be used.

FAA officials expect the rules to vary among airlines, and the rules will pertain to both domestic and international flights.

The new rules were established with input from airline executives, airline manufacturers, pilots, passengers and technology experts.

Talking on cell phones in flight has long been disallowed, but in the past, passengers had to turn their phones completely off during takeoff and landing regardless of whether or not the device's cellular signal was turned off.