Using portable electronic while flying

As the technology of personal entertainment and personal communications devices evolves, airline passengers have an ever increasing number of options in portable electronic devices such as MP3 players and web-capable cell phones. With these options come issues such as when a passenger can use these devices, and perhaps more importantly, when a passenger should show good judgement by not using these devices. As the ongoing debate over the use of cell phones in flight has shown, there are very strong opinions as to what kinds of activities and behaviors will be tolerated by other passengers.

Todd Curtis interview on WSJ Live on electronic device security issues on July 7, 2014.

When can a passenger use a personal electronic device
While the FAA's revised policy (N 8900.240) on the use of PEDs in flight from October 2013 provides general guidelines about how portable electronic devices can be used inside of an airliner, the following suggested guidelines reflect current practices of many US airlines:

  • Devices that can be operated at all times on an aircraft
    implanted medical devices such as pacemakers, electronic nerve stimulators, hearing aids, digital watches, mobile devices (in airplane mode or with cellular service turned off), tablets, e-readers, handheld games, calculators, PDAs, and digital cameras.

  • Devices that can be operated without restriction before pushback and after landing
    Mobile phones, pagers, and devices that can send or receive email or text messages.

  • Devices that can be operated during cruise
    Typically, the following can be used during boarding before the passenger doors close, and then again once the aircraft reaches 10,000 feet (about five minutes after takeoff) until the flight crew begins the approach phase about 15 minutes before landing: laptop computers, devices that can compose or read email and text messages without transmitting or receiving; mobile phones in "game" or "airplane" mode or that are using the aircraft's wi-fi system, larger media players and other PEDs that would be placed on a tray table or a passenger's lap, and short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards and headphones.

  • Devices that may not be operated at any time
    AM or FM radios, televisions, scanners, two-way radios, remote controlled devices, wireless mouse, other transmitters (with the exceptions noted earlier)

Airline policies, and especially the flight attendants on your flight, usually are quite clear about when portable electronic devices can and cannot be used on an aircraft, what is not quite as clear is what should and should not be done with these devices. This issue is important because the behavior of a passenger with a portable electronic device may be annoying or upsetting to other passengers.

Things You Should Not Do with Your Personal Electronic Device?
There are many behaviors and activities that are inappropriate for the inside of an aircraft. The following is just a partial list of inappropriate behaviors and activities that involve portable electronic devices:

  • Using devices that make noise.
    When playing music, use headphones or earphones. For other devices like computers or video games, turn off the audio. If that is not possible, consider not using the device.
    Noise Tip: Using a noise canceling headset maintains your privacy and also reduces some of the constant background noise during your flight. Perhaps the best quality headphones on the market is the Bose® QuietComfort® 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Headphones.

  • Displaying inappropriate moving or still images
    Inappropriate images generally include sexually oriented material, material depicting extreme acts of violence, or other images that could be upsetting to other passengers.

  • Talking loudly on the phone

  • Photographing people without their permission

  • Photographing unaccompanied children
    It is customary to get a parent or guardian's permission before photographing a child, but that is not possible with a child traveling alone. Furthermore, to other passengers and to the crew, a person taking pictures of an unaccompanied child would appear to be very suspicious.

Using portable electronic while flying -- Revised 30 August 2015