Utah travelers react to news that FAA will allow gate-to-gate use of electronic devices

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31 2013 8:32 p.m. MDT

Travelers use their smartphones while waiting at the baggage claim at Salt Lake City International Airport Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, in Salt Lake City. The FAA has announced new rules allowing airline passengers to use most electronic devices, but not voice calls, from gate-to-gate on flights.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In the near future, passengers on many planes will no longer hear the announcement to turn off their electronic devices before takeoff.

"It's about time they let it happen. We all know it doesn't interfere the way they try to say," said Sherman Patton as he checked his messages Thursday at Salt Lake City International Airport's baggage claim. "But I also understand that they want people's attention at that point."

Patton, who was returning to Utah after a business trip to Tokyo, heard the announcement during his travels that the Federal Aviation Administration has given airlines the option to allow uninterrupted use of personal electronic devices from gate to gate, rather than requiring they be powered down when the aircraft closes its doors and kept off until the plane reaches 10,000 feet.

Joe Broderick, a Spanish Fork resident who was catching up on emails nearby, chimed in that he had observed a woman on their flight who never bothered to shut off her cellphone despite the announcements, tucking it instead into a bag.

"It didn't seem to cause any problems," said Broderick, who believes most people don't comply with the existing policy anyway.

Under the new guidelines, airlines whose planes are properly protected from electronic interference may allow passengers to use the devices during takeoffs, landings and taxiing, the FAA said. Most new airliners and other planes that have been modified so passengers can use Wi-Fi at higher altitudes are expected to meet the criteria.

This includes items such as e-readers, portable MP3 players, tablets, laptops and short-range Bluetooth accessories. Even cellphones could be allowed — though phone calls are still prohibited — if Wi-Fi is available on the plane and the phone is in "airplane mode."

"Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions," the FAA announcement states.

For Marlene Mendoza, a Mexico City resident who flies to Utah every few months to visit family, that means she won't have to put down her iPad during the long flight.

"Now I don't have to worry if it's turned on or off," said Mendoza, who looks forward to less stress on her trips. "I think it's really good because a lot of people have to answer emails, and they can use that time during takeoff. It's an extra 10 minutes."

But the change won't be immediate, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Thursday. Each airline must develop its own policy, complete a safety assessment and get final approval from the FAA before implementing the change.

Airlines will have to show the FAA that their airplanes meet the new guidelines and that they've updated their flight-crew training manuals, safety announcements and rules for stowing devices to reflect the new guidelines.

Delta and JetBlue officials said they would quickly submit plans to implement the new policy.

Orlando, Fla., resident Jonathan Davis travels an estimated 150 days each year and landed in Salt Lake City on Thursday as part of his latest trip.

"Sometimes that extra 15 minutes or so is important for business travelers," he said. "If it's an important call, you either break the rules and you stay on a little longer or you just shut it down. And if it helps them getting the planes of the ground a little quicker, that's nice too."

Passengers are still asked to pay attention while crew members give safety instructions and to store heavier items under seats or in overhead bins during takeoff and landing, according to the FAA.

Contributing: Associated Press

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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