It’s not often the rules change, especially when it comes to aviation. Since the Wright brothers first propelled their wood-and-fabric plane into the sky in 1903 we’ve been banned from using electronic devices below 10,000 feet. (They had iPods back then, right?) Of course, there was reasoning behind the ban, or at least reasonable fear. Electronics by their very nature emit electromagnetic radiation, which has the potential to interfere with the ostensibly sensitive instruments of an aircraft. Takeoff and landing are the most dangerous phases of any flight, the points where those instruments need to be their most accurate. So in the early days of portable electronics, when they were more electromagnetically leaky and the instruments in the cockpit weren’t as protected as they are today, an abundance of caution led to portable electronics being banned during takeoff and landing.
But in the years since that ban was instituted, our gadgets have become less leaky. Copious research has been applied to determining just how much interference these devices might actually cause (the answer is minimal to none). And the electronics that control these planes have been hardened, but to protect against much more nefarious interferences such as electromagnetic pulse bombs or terrorist hacking intended to knock planes out of the sky.
Our gadgets and our planes today are safe together. And so the government aviation authorities have decided that it’s time to lift the ban. You’re not yet free to move about the cabin during that initial ascent and final approach, but you can keep tapping away at your tablet and smartphone. So beyond having your possible usage time extended from the time you sit down to the time you get up, what else do these new rules mean for airborne travelers?