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FAA OKs air passengers using gadgets on planes

  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta announces that government safety rules are changing to let airline passengers use most electronic devices from gate-to-gate during a news conference, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON - Airline passengers will be able to use their electronic devices gate-to-gate to read, work, play games, watch movies and listen to music — but not talk on their cellphones — under much-anticipated guidelines issued Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

But passengers shouldn't expect changes to happen right away, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said at a news conference. How fast the change is implemented will vary by airline, he said.

Airlines will have to show the FAA how 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 said they would immediately submit plans to implement the new policy.

Currently, passengers are required to turn off their smartphones, tablets and other devices once a plane's door closes. They're not supposed to restart them until the planes reach 10,000 feet and the captain gives the go-ahead. Passengers are supposed to turn their devices off again as the plane descends to land and not restart them until the plane is on the ground.

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 that passengers can use Wifi at higher altitudes are expected to meet the criteria.

But connecting to the Internet to surf, exchange emails, text or download data will still be prohibited below 10,000 feet. Passengers will be told to switch their devices to airplane mode. That means no Words With Friends, the online Scrabble-type game that actor Alec Baldwin was playing on his smartphone in 2011 when he was famously booted off an American Airlines jet for refusing to turn off the device while the plane was parked at the gate. Heavier devices such as laptops will continue to have to be stowed because of concern they might injure someone if they go flying around the cabin.

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