Airplane passengers who forgot to bring a magazine will soon have other entertainment options besides browsing SkyMall and the in-flight safety card. The FAA announced Thursday that the agency will be relaxing guidelines on passenger electronic device use during takeoff and landing, allowing the use of tablets, e-readers, dvd players and video game consoles during these critical phases of flight.
The rules are expected to go into effect in 2014 after carriers test devices and ask regulators for permission to allow their use during all phases of flight.
Making a phone call or sending a text during landing and takeoff still won't be allowed. Neither will be transmitting any kind of signal during that time via, for instance, a tablet that also uses cell signals for data.
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That could put flight attendants in the awkward position of being "tablet police" to make sure passengers are complying. Between the indivisibility of the transmission and the variety of the devices on the market, that guideline could spell conflict between passengers and flight attendants.
"It's going to become more challenging to determine whose device is okay and whose isn't," said Kelly Skyles, a 26-year flight attendant and national safety and security coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that represents cabin crews at American Airlines. "My greatest concern is that it's going to put flight attendants at risk for more confrontations."
Not to mention that passengers will sometimes sneak in a few Words with Friends turns when they think they can get away with it. "You can't be looking at everybody all the time," said Tiffany Hawk, a former flight attendant and the author of "Love Me Anyway," a novel about airline culture. "People are always pretending to turn things off even when they're not."
The FAA's revised guidelines are in line with the recommendations presented to it by a 28-member advisory committee in September.
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The agency has come under increasing pressure in recent years from passengers, lawmakers and the electronic device industry who have argued the devices pose little threat.
Passengers are currently required turn off devices when planes are below 10,000 feet to avoid electronic interference with cockpit equipment during takeoff and landing. There are no confirmed reports of passenger devices interfering with flight navigation devices.
—By Ben Popken, NBC News