FAA Lifts Restrictions On Using Electronics On Airplanes

Finally, the FAA acts to end a pretty dumb rule.

Airplanes Electronics

The Federal Aviation Administration has lifted most of the restrictions on the use of electronics on commercial airliners, leaving the issue mostly up to individual air carriers:

WASHINGTON — Airline passengers can use electronic devices in “all phases of flight” if the airline determines that its aircraft can tolerate the interference, the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday, but using a cellphone to talk will still be banned.

The change will most likely take effect before the end of the year, the F.A.A. said. Rules for cellphone use are set by the Federal Communications Commission.

The administrator of the F.A.A., Michael P. Huerta, said he expected that, with rare exceptions, airlines would allow the use of tablets, MP3 players and smartphones in “airplane mode,” with their cell network connections turned off. The airlines will have to conduct tests on their equipment and submit the results to the F.A.A. for approval, he said.

“In some instances of low visibility, 1 percent of flights, some landing systems may not be proven to tolerate the interference,” said Mr. Huerta, briefing reporters at the ticketing lobby of Ronald Reagan National Airport. “In those cases, passengers may be asked to turn off personal electronic devices,” he said.

The rule banning use of personal electronic devices during some parts of the flight “had been in use for 50 years,” he said, and both the devices and airplane avionics had changed in that period. The change follows the recommendation an advisory committee made on Sept. 30.

But Mr. Huerta stressed that passengers would be told to turn off their electronics when the flight attendants gave preflight safety briefings about what to do in an emergency, and that the airlines would have to develop new rules about stowing lightweight electronics during takeoff and landing.

The fact that many airlines now offer in-flight WiFi services that allow passengers to use their smartphones, tablets, and laptops during flight, combined with the fact that there’s almost no credible evidence that these devices, when left on, have interfered with flight safety, this seems like a long overdue decision. Indeed, I suspect its long been the case that planes all across the country have safely taken off and landed while more than one cell phone or table was inadvertently left turned on in someones pocket or carry-on bag without incident. While it’s obvious that there will need to be rules regarding the safe storage of these devices during certain parts of a flight, a blanket rule such as the one that is being repealed today makes absolutely no sense at all. Additionally, given that we live in a world where practically everyone has some form of mobile communications device, especially among that group of people that fly on a regular basis, it’s likely advisable that airlines and plane manufacturers will need to modify systems to limit the potential impact of any interference that these types of signals might produce.

As James Joyner has previously related, these restrictions were pretty much just as dumb as some of the security theater that we now have to submit ourselves to before we’re even allowed to get to the gate where the plane is located. Kudos to the FAA for getting something right for once.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. beth says:

    It’s about time. If an Ipad could really bring down a plane, don’t you think some terrorist would have done it by now?

    However, I do hope the airlines have the good sense to enforce some sort of “headphones required” rule or make people turn down the volume. I once spent two hours listening to some 4 year old play a game through the whole flight, complete with beeps, blorps and whizzers in spite of the mom being asked by quite a few people to please turn it down.

  2. rudderpedals says:

    The tesla coil stays powered on for the entire flight. Sweet.

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    Many of these restrictions date back years to analog cell phones which really could interfere with electronics and in addition fry your brain if you used them too much.

  4. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    The genesis of the cellphone ban begins with the FCC, not the FAA.

    The FCC was concerned with a cellphone (at 35,000 ft) “hitting” hundreds of cell towers simultanously.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Some of this takes as long as it does because

    almost no credible evidence

    isn’t good enough for flight safety.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Yes, let’s please keep the cellphone ban on. The last thing I want to have to deal with when I fly is a seatmate who is a) loudly having phone sex with his girlfriend, or b) loudly breaking up with his girlfriend, or c) loudly fighting with his girlfriend. Ditto for hearing two gal-pals loudly dissect at 35,000 feet in the air the sexual, physical, and emotional inadequacies of one’s ex.

    I imagine that people flying on business trips would be intelligent enough to realize talking business on a cellphone in an area crowded with people would be a dumb thing to do.

  7. wr says:

    @grumpy realist: “I imagine that people flying on business trips would be intelligent enough to realize talking business on a cellphone in an area crowded with people would be a dumb thing to do. ”

    Of course you’d probably imagine that the head of an intelligence agency wouldn’t give not-for-attribution interviews on his cell in a train car crowded with people, too…

  8. Just Me says:

    I hated the fact that I had to turn off my kindle even though it was in airplane mode. While I can see reasons to ban some items I have a hard time believing my barebones kindle is going to interfere with the airplane electronics.

  9. al-Ameda says:

    Now, if they could get people to stop carrying-on baggage that doesn’t really fit in the overhead storage bins, we might actually begin to make some progress here.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Ameda: Damn, wish I could upvote that a thousand times.

  11. PJ says:


    It’s about time. If an Ipad could really bring down a plane, don’t you think some terrorist would have done it by now?

    Terrorists prefer things that have a lot higher probability to bring down a plane, like bombs.

    The issue here is that even if there’s a really small probability (say 1 in 50 million) that using electronics on a plane will bring it down, the total number of flights per year (somewhere around 9 to 15 million) means that the probability of a plane going down that year due to people using electronics gets quite a bit higher.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @PJ: I just up voted that because somebody out there doesn’t like simple mathematics. Idiots.