The FAA's current policy forces passengers to turn off most portable electronic devices, such as smartphones, laptops, tablet computers and e-readers, during takeoffs and landings -- technically, below 10,000 feet. The fear is that the devices might interfere with flight equipment.
However, surveys have showed that many passengers do not turn off their devices, either intentionally or accidentally. Critics have said the change is a long time coming, sometimes pointing to the fact that many pilots in the cockpit use iPads as part of their "electronic flight bag," instead of carrying bulky paper navigation charts and manuals.
The change would not only be welcome by the flying public but by such companies as Amazon, which makes the Kindle reading device, and soon-to-be Chicago-based Gogo, which provides inflight Wi-Fi Internet access. Gogo this week announced it would relocate its headquarters and 460 employees to 111 N. Canal St. from its current base in Itasca.
After the change is implemented, passengers will be able to read e-books, play games and watch videos on their devices "during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions," the FAA said. Wireless phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled -- no signal bars displayed -- and cannot be used for voice calls. A different agency, the Federal Communications Commission, has since 1991 banned inflight use of cell phones because of potential interference with ground networks.
Flight attendants will not be policing whether a device is in airplane mode, Huerta said.
Passengers will also be able to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, such as wireless mice and keyboards.
In rare instances of low-visibility, about 1 percent of the time, flight crews will instruct passengers to turn off their devices, the FAA said.