Airline passengers should be allowed to use their personal electronic devices to read, play games or enjoy movies and music, even when planes are on the ground or flying below 10,000 feet, according to recommendations an advisory panel sent to the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday.
But the panel said restrictions should remain on texting, browsing the Web or checking email after the plane's doors have been closed. Passengers can do that only when the aircraft's Wi-Fi network is turned on, typically above 10,000 feet. The use of cellphones to make calls, which was not part of the review, will still be prohibited throughout the flight.
The panel would maintain restrictions on devices like smartphones and tablets with data communication features that could potentially disrupt some airplane systems. Those devices should be used only on "airplane mode," which disables their transmission capability.
This would leave passengers with tablets, e-readers and smartphones to use any material — books, music or movies — that has been downloaded and stored digitally before the flight.
Airlines have been eager to relax the rules, which are seen often as a distraction for flight attendants forced to police the cabin. Airlines are also expanding the use of wireless systems on board, offering live television and considering streaming movies to passengers' own devices.
The current policy is that all electronic devices must be turned off once the main cabin doors are closed and until the aircraft reaches 10,000 feet, or descends below that level for landing.
Above 10,000 feet, where possible interference is deemed to be less critical and pilots have more time to respond to a problem, passengers are allowed to use laptops, smartphones and tablets provided that their transmission functions remain turned off.