The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced at the end of October the loosening of regulations prohibiting the use of certain popular personal electronic devices during take-off and landing. So long as their batteries are charged, passengers can now look forward to reading on their Kindles or iPads, listening to their mp3 players, or watching videos on their iPods and smartphones without interruption for the entire length of their flight.
U.S. carriers have already begun applying for safety dispensations, and the industry, along with electronics manufacturers, are pushing for action on the matter prior to the upcoming holiday travel season.
What about European low-cost carriers?
These U.S. research findings are likely to influence carriers around the globe, including European airlines. While the continent lags behind its North American counterparts in offering in-flight Wi-Fi services for passengers, this change may provide just the boost needed for airlines to consider offering or upgrading on-board internet service. Currently the only European low-cost airline I am aware of offering broadband connections for mobile users in-flight is Norwegian – which it does for free!
The BBC reports that EU countries are in the process of legislating changes allowing for satellite access to faster internet service for airline passengers, which may improve on-board connectivity as soon as 2014.
The in-air use of cellular phones for calling, still largely an unpopular idea with air travelers, is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and will not be affected by the aforementioned change. EU fliers are already allowed to make mobile calls in-flight if their carrier has appropriately outfitted their planes for the service; one of the few airlines to have done so (and charging a premium for it) is Ryanair.
Yet if, as the BBC projects, internet streaming both increases in popularity and speeds up dramatically, the use of VoIP services such as Skype may circumvent current regulations and unleash across the friendly skies a new wave of anger over appropriate airborne telephone etiquette.