Airplane travelers will soon be able to watch videos and play games with their electronic devices throughout their entire flight -- and not just above a certain altitude -- the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday in a long-anticipated announcement.
But don't expect to be chatting on your cell phone. A ban on using cell phones for voice communication remains in effect.
The FAA, following months of study by a group of aviation experts, said Thursday that airlines can soon allow passengers to use portable electronic devices such as tablets, laptop computers, e-readers and cell phones in airplane mode throughout the flight -- with some circumstantial restrictions.
Until now, passengers in the United States were prohibited from using the devices until their plane rose above 10,000 feet. The timing of the changes will depend on individual airlines, but an FAA statement said it expects "many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year."
"Each airline will determine how and when this will happen," FAA administrator Michael Huerta told reporters Thursday morning at Reagan Washington National Airport.
The FAA had long claimed that using electronic devices during takeoff and landing posed a safety issue and that radio signals emitted from the devices could interfere with an aircraft's communications, navigation and other systems.
But a panel that the FAA established last year to study the issue concluded that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference signals.
Before an airline switches to the relaxed rules, airlines will have to prove to the FAA that their aircraft can tolerate the interference. Airlines have, over the years, built newer planes with portable electronics in mind, hardening them against electromagnetic interference.