Within the next year or so, travelers may find that the restrictions from using mobile devices and in-flight WiFi on aircraft during takeoff and landing are lifted. Last week, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) panel recommended that the use of devices during those critical flight segments be lifted, with the exception of making phone calls and sending text messages. Now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the same advisory committee says that WiFi is safe to use throughout a flight.
Currently, a growing number of airliners have onboard WiFi systems that turn on after aircraft reach 10,000 feet. Close to 60 percent of all commercial US aircraft are already approved for WiFi use, and the testing that was required to certify the aircraft for onboard WiFi is rigorous enough that the panel is recommending that portable devices be given the thumbs-up for use throughout a flight.
Fortunately, the panel is still recommending that cellular voice usage be disabled during all flight operations, so having to listen to a teenager's conversation during a five-hour flight is still a nightmare we'll not have to face. On the bad side, the panel has also asked the FAA and Federal Communications Commission to take another look at whether or not cellular voice and data should be allowed.
The full report from the panel is expected to be released soon and will include more than two dozen recommendations. The FAA needs to act on those recommendations before they can be implemented, so it will most likely be well into 2014 before we're allowed to read an e-book or play Angry Birds on an iPad during takeoff.