Don't expect the changes to happen immediately, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Thursday at a news conference announcing new rules. How fast will vary by airline.
Delta and JetBlue said they would quickly submit plans to implement the new policy. Airlines will have to show the FAA that their airplanes meet the new guidelines and that they've updated their flight-crew training manuals, safety announcements and rules for stowing devices to reflect the new guidelines.
Currently, passengers are required to turn off their smartphones, tablets and other devices once a plane's door closes. They're not supposed to restart them until the planes reach 10,000 feet and the captain gives the go-ahead. Passengers are supposed to turn their devices off again as the plane descends to land and not restart them until it is on the ground.
Under the new guidelines, airlines whose planes are properly protected from electronic interference may allow passengers to use the devices during takeoffs, landings and taxiing, the FAA said. Most new airliners and other planes that have been modified so that passengers can use Wi-Fi at higher altitudes are expected to meet the criteria.
Passengers will also be able to connect to the Internet to surf, exchange emails, or download data below 10,000 feet if the plane has an installed Wi-Fi system, but not through cellular networks. Passengers will be told to switch their devices to airplane mode. Heavier devices such as laptops will continue to have to be stowed away because of concern they might injure someone if they go flying around the cabin.
In-flight cellphone calls will continue to be prohibited. Regulatory authority over phone calls belongs to the Federal Communications Commission, not the FAA. The commission prohibits the calls because of concern that phones on planes flying at hundreds of miles per hour could strain the ability of cellular networks to keep up as the devices keep trying to connect with cellphone towers, interfering with service to users on the ground.
The changes announced Thursday apply to both domestic and international flights by U.S. carriers, but the rules get a little tricky for international flights. On takeoff from the United States and during landing back in the U.S., passengers would be allowed to use electronics. However, when arriving or departing a foreign country, passengers would have to comply with local laws. Currently, most counties have their own prohibitions on electronic device use. However, they tend to follow the FAA's lead and likely could relax their own rules in the near future.
AP Airlines Writer Scott Mayerowitz in New York contributed to this report.
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