Electronics now allowed gate to gate on US Airways flights

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Starting today, passengers aboard US Airways flights no longer have to turn off electronic devices for takeoff and landing. They can have their books, games, movies and music from gate to gate.

Up until now, travelers had to turn off e-readers, MP3 players, tablets and smartphones -- anything with an on/off switch -- before a plane could push back from the gate. They were not allowed to use them again until the plane had hit 10,000 feet.

Last week the Federal Aviation Administration issued new guidelines allowing personal electronics devices (PEDS) to stay on for the entire duration of flights as long as those devices are in airplane mode -- not connected to a cellular network. That means no talking on cell phones once the plane's door is closed. And while in-flight Wi-Fi is available on many planes, it's only on while above 10,000 feet.

The prohibition on cellphone use comes not from the FAA, but from the Federal Communications Commission. The concern is about potential strain on the network as phones aboard planes flying hundreds of miles per hour continually try to connect with cellphone towers. That load on the network could interfere with users on the ground.

Although the FAA announced its decision about PED use last week, it was up to the individual airlines to implement new policies after ensuring that their planes are properly protected from electronic interference. For US Airways, the new policy kicked in Thursday.

"US Airways applauds the FAA's decision to expand the use of personal electronics onboard and thanks the agency and its team of experts for their diligence in examining this issue," said Kerry Hester, senior vice president of customer experience. "We are constantly working to enhance our customers' in-flight experience and believe this is an important policy change that will further strengthen travelers' onboard enjoyment while keeping safety at the forefront."

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, 99 percent of passengers carry some kind of electronic device with them. The most common gadget is a smartphone.

While the smaller devices can now be used from gate to gate, airlines will still require travelers to stow their laptop computers during takeoff and landing. That, however, is a safety issue. Laptops are larger and heavier than tablets, phones, e-readers and MP3 players, and could potentially injure somebody during turbulence.

The FAA's new guidelines apply to both domestic and international flights -- planes taking off from or landing in the U.S. Other countries have their own laws prohibiting use of electronics below 10,000 feet. While passengers still have to comply with those policies, chances are most countries will follow the FAA's lead and relax their restrictions.

Older electronics emitted high power radio transmissions. The concern was that those emissions could interfere with the planes' navigation systems. The emissions of modern electronics are much lower. The strongest transmissions are when data is sent, like when a song, book or movie is downloaded. In additions, most planes are designed to resist electronic interference.

In 2011, Amazon.com did a test, sending up a plane loaded with its Kindle e-readers to see if there would be any interference issues. There was none.

While US Airways flights now allow electronics to remain on in airplane mode for the duration of flights, that might not be the case with partner airlines operating US Airway Express flights. Those individual policies require separate FAA approval.

Southwest reportedly is next in line to allow gate-to-gate electronic entertainment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.