On October 31st, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that airline passengers will soon be able to use their portable electronic devices during flight – with some restrictions. The changes won’t happen immediately because each airline has to independently certify its fleet and procedures.
Mose organizations, including the airlines, flight attendants, and business travelers, welcome the change (with a few exceptions). Let’s take a look at what these changes will mean for travelers.
Why have we been told to turn them off all this time?
Prior to the existence of handheld devices like smartphones, we had portable devices like AM/FM radios and televisions. The signal processing in those devices emitted a radio frequency signal that could cause noise interference between those in the aircraft cockpit and the navigation teams in airport towers. Ultimately, it was a matter of safety because those communications between the cockpits and air traffic control towers made sure that planes full of passengers and crew did not crash into each other while taking off and landing (among other dangers).
Why the 10,000-foot rule? Above 10,000 feet, the communications that control the business of flying is all internal to the plane – between the cockpit and crew. Below 10,000 feet, the flight communications are both internal and external – between the cockpit and air traffic control. The recent reversal of the FAA’s long-standing ruling that electronic device usage during takeoff and landing posed a safety issue is thanks to evolutions in digital technology.
Electronic Devices Must Remain in Airplane Mode
It’s important to note that the FAA ruling changes will be individually approved and implemented by the airlines who will continue to require that devices are in airplane mode. This means the electronic device’s signal transmitting functions are suspended, i.e., it can’t send or receive calls or text messages.
Travelers can still use their devices to do any other function that doesn’t require signal transmission, including playing games, reading, watching movies, etc. With regard to future evolutions of electronic devices, it would be an exceptional feature to have devices automatically go into airplane mode once the passenger boards, don’t you think?
FAA Ruling Includes an Exception for Low Visibility
The recent ruling does include an exception for flights that are occurring in low visibility. Only about 1% of flights will fall into this category but in cases of low visibility, the landing systems may not prove to be tolerant to the use of personal electronic devices which may have to be turned off.
The airline pilots union wasn’t happy about this because it means relying on traveler compliance in cases of extremely poor weather. Then again, many passengers admit to not turning off their devices now so these situations will likely require some familiar methods of crowd control, including enforcement through crew announcements, stalking the aisles, and peer passenger pressure.
7 Recommendations for Travelers Carrying Electronics
The electronics manufacturers were quick to add their support for the easing of restrictions and declaring that the use of personal electronics was part of an enjoyable passenger experience. The easing of restrictions is likely to cause an upsurge of travelers carrying more devices than before and it’s important that travelers understand the risks and protect themselves from financial losses with these recommendations:
Keep tight control of your electronics. This means keeping them with you in a bag, backpack, or briefcase that’s never out of your sight. Of course, carry-on luggage isn’t completely safe from thieves either – travelers often step away from their bags to go to the restroom or fall asleep on the plane, leaving their electronics exposed to easy theft.
Implement strong passwords. If you use your electronic device for anything that could be linked to a personal account, bank account, work account, anything that could be considered identity theft or corporate espionage, be sure to implement strong password controls on every device. Identity theft is on the rise globally and one of the reasons for that is the easy access through our personal devices – when those devices are stolen, we’ve handed a thief everything they need to know to steal our identity.
Never pack electronics in checked luggage. Personal electronic devices of any worth should never be packed in your checked luggage because luggage raiding is still a problem for many travelers and hundreds of TSA workers have been fired for rifling through luggage and stealing. See our Steps to Minimize TSA Sticky Fingers for more details.
Understand your coverage. Many of the electronics travelers carry with them are not well protected by your credit card travel protection, your travel insurance, or other coverage. If your electronics are stolen from your checked luggage, for example, you’ll have limited coverage for electronics with your travel insurance plan.
Tap into your homeowner’s benefits. Many homeowner’s policies allow you to schedule coverage for your electronics and the coverage is much better. You won’t have the same per-item limits and your electronics can often be covered for a wider range of accidents including being dropped overboard on a cruise.
Pay attention in taxis, buses, and rickshaws. Your bags can be stolen anytime and when you store your luggage in the trunk of a taxi, on the roof of the bus, even on the seat beside you, you have to keep a close eye on it. Recent media reports from Italy indicated that bands of motorcycle thieves have been highly successful at stealing purses off the front passenger seats simply by snatching them through open windows!
Use locks when you leave your bags behind. You can use the safe in your room to store valuables, but remember that there is ALWAYS an override or manager’s code to reset the safe and open it. Some experts think that hard-sided luggage with a lock in combination with a locking cable – something like a bike lock – is the better route. It works like this: lock the valuables you don’t need that day in the case, then secure the case to something immovable in your room. The toilet is relatively immovable, for example. Here are some great techniques to keep your valuable safe while traveling.
In the end, it’s important to look at your electronics and determine how they expose you to risk and how much money you could lose if they are lost or stolen. Depending on how much you spent on each device and how much you are willing to lose, getting the right coverage can make it easier to replace them.