United to allow handhelds below 10k feet

JetBlue passengers celebrate relaxation of inflight electronics rules (JetBlue)

JetBlue passengers celebrate relaxation of inflight electronics rules (JetBlue)

United and American announced today that they have obtained FAA permission for passenger use of electronics on board aircraft below 10,000 feet– the FAA granted permission almost immediately to both JetBlue and Delta last week. Other airlines (including Virgin America and Southwest) will have to wait a few more weeks until they get FAA approval.

A Virgin America spokesperson told TravelSkills: “We’re in the process of applying through the new process and hope to implement the changes as soon as possible, with the goal of having the change live in November — in time for the holidays.”

As you know, this was previously deemed to be a safety threat to the aircraft’s electronics and navigation systems. But following significant review, the FAA has determined that is not the case. In fact, many pilots have been using iPads in place of bulky flight manuals, and Delta recently introduced handheld devices for flight attendants, which tend to remain on during all phases of flight, to handle in-flight sales and customer service issues.

Virgin America customers will have to wait a few more weeks for FAA approval for handheld use below 10K (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America customers will have to wait a few more weeks for FAA approval for handheld use below 10K (Photo: Virgin America)

The lifting of this unpopular rule will allow passengers to read books or listen to music while taxiing on the ground or in the first final phases of flight. Devices must be in airplane mode under 10,000 feet meaning there is no transmission of data (cell phone or Internet use).

According to United’s release,  this only applies to handheld devices like phones or tablets… laptops will likely still have to be stowed  for landing– but I’m not sure why a laptop poses any more danger than a tablet. And it’s an increasingly fine line separating tablets from laptops. Time will tell…

Wireless Internet via Gogo will NOT be available below 10,000 feet— A Gogo spokesperson told TravelSkills that “it’s a little of both” when we asked if usage was not possible due to FAA rule, or because the service simply does not work below 10K feet.

Flight attendants are surely pleased with this new rule as it keeps them from having to patrol every single device, but it is still unclear how crew will be checking to see if devices are in airplane mode. During taxi and before takeoff, there is nothing to stop a sneaky passenger from checking their email on a smart phone unless a crewmember was to catch them!

What about you? Have you ever left your phone in transmission mode under 10K feet? Do you think that cell phone transmissions can truly impact navigational equipment? Please leave your comments below… 

Chris McGinnis 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

>Riding the Red Carpet Route to London! 

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

>Airline cat fight benefitting TravelSkills Readers 


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  • Dwimby

    You unmake your own case. Cell phones should not be allowed to be used mainly because they will disturb passengers on an ongoing basis, passengers who are not the self important, self adoring types who believe if they are not gabbing mindlessly with other mindless empty headed phone pals that they are somehow incomplete as a a person, which they are by definition, Just let’s get smart and just say “no” to cellphone use in the air. There is enough stress and friction up there already.

  • Tom Aarts

    Flew my first United flight this morning with devices on and it really made the flight (mentally) easier. It always stressed me out when the flight crew walked down the isles and barked at people to turn off their devices and sometimes started fights about it. Much less stressful which is the way it should be! Thanks for the advanced info Chris!

  • petermjensen

    and the FAA KNOW this too. Which just proves that there isn’t and has never been a real threat with these devices on. Because if there was the slightest evidence then they would ban them and implement a simple scanner that would pick up cell phone and wireless signals and walk through the aisles to make sure.

  • DJ

    this was a asinine rule to begin with……electronic have never effected flight control or cockpit communications… period , what they do is distract passengers incase of an emergency….. which remains a problem ….


  • FTdad

    Flight attendants patrolling devices? The reality is, flight attendants are seated for takeoff and landing, so passengers have ALREADY been doing whatever they wished, and they will continue to do so. I know the ban on all electronics was a little bogus, but I will miss the 10-20 minutes of calm during taxi, takeoff and landing. While the rule may have been technically unnecessary, it was a clear standard that everyone understood. Now there’s lots of nuance, ripe for misunderstanding and plenty of abuse.

    You KNOW some people are going to be texting and emailing as long as they get a signal on their device. Because these people think rules don’t apply to them. You know who they are.