New European Union flight mode: On

Transport

From the Budapest Business Journal print edition: Time flies swiftly when working – especially when on a deadline. However, it passes slowly when traveling on business. Depending on your destination, you probably have three to 12 hours to kill, which you can hardly spend working. Nearly all flights forbid the use of electric devices in the air, meaning passengers may use them offline only: no emails, no phone calls, and no internet.

While this may not change for a while, from now on, travelers at least need not switch off their phones during take-off and landing anymore. In its updated safety guidance published on December 9, the European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency allows for the use of portable electronic devices (PED) in non-transmitting mode from gate to gate.  

This easing will lessen the hassle of having to turn phones off, though it hardly makes flight time more efficient in working terms; for that, a connection to the Internet is essential. Today, few airplanes are equipped to cater to such needs: transmission on these aircrafts takes place via a safety certified on-board system, not via the ground network. Connection to such a network is currently only permitted when cruising, although this is expected to expand in the coming years with improved safety measures and lobbying.

Although authorities and experts group who participated in updating the guidelines have cleared earlier safety concerns, new problems can arise. If one is not obliged to switch devices off, some people may decide not to disconnect at all. Flight attendants can’t physically check every phone, so lawmakers may only appeal to passengers’ sense of safety and judgment.

The new policy is not mandatory: airlines may choose not to follow it. However, the need to be able to work on the road will continue to grow, reducing the likelihood of airlines opting for a more restrictive policy on the use of PEDs. Connectivity also creates a new income source, which airlines are likely to tap, once it becomes possible.

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