Allowing Fliers To Use Some Electronic Devices Below 10,000 Feet Would Be More Convenient, Passenger Says

It can be hard for many fliers to disconnect

By Gilma Avalos
|  Tuesday, Jun 25, 2013  |  Updated 1:30 AM EDT
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"It would be more convenient for me to be able to do what I'm doing without interruption. Unless it’s absolutely necessary," Jens Michael said.

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If you have ever been a passenger on a commercial airline in the age of the cell phone, you already know the drill.

“You got to turn off all your electronics,” said Jaime Garrett, without hesitation.

The rules require passengers to power down below 10,000 feet. But for many, it can be hard to disconnect, even in the minutes before takeoff.

"I like to have my entertainment for the flight," said Garrett, a passenger at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

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But now Federal Aviation Administration officials say they are considering relaxing the ban on using some personal electronic devices inside airplanes. An advisory panel is looking into allowing the use of some electronic gadgets below 10,000 feet.

"It would be more convenient for me to be able to do what I'm doing without interruption. Unless it’s absolutely necessary," said Jens Michael, typing away on a laptop while waiting for a flight at FLL.

Is it necessary to power down? Does it actually interfere with safety? Those are questions the advisory panel will examine. Robert Gaylord, the president of Macro Strategies Incorporated and a commercial airline pilot, says there's a gray area when it comes to cell phones.

"All of the testing that has been done has shown no impact. However, there have been operational cases where pilots have noticed impacts on their instruments and when they called back, they found that people were using cell phones,” he said.

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When inside of the cockpit, Gaylord depends on his iPad to access satellite maps and charts, even during takeoff and landing.

“Forty pounds worth of books are held inside this," he said while scrolling through the device.

When it comes to e-readers and other tablets, he believes the safety issue may have to do more with our attention spans during the most critical times on a flight — at less than 10,000 feet of altitude.

"In the event of a malfunction when the flight attendants are going to need move fast and get the passengers to do something, they don't want passengers preoccupied with their headphones on, not listening,” Gaylord said.

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Having access to your gadgets could prevent you from being alert during important safety and emergency instructions.

You may not be able to phone a friend during the entirety of a flight any time soon. Cell phones are expected to remain off-limits. But Gaylord said that at some point, it may not just be the flight that’s nonstop. E-readers and tablets could get the green light.

"I think the change that you see now is, [the FAA is] wanting to allow as much as they can," he said.

The advisory panel was slated to offer its recommendations next month but has asked for an extension. That recommendation could come as early as September.

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