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Free at Last? FAA Reconsiders Ban on Gadgets During Takeoff, Landing

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is rethinking its policy on digital devices.

Never mind the cramped coach seats, long toilet lines and awful food. One of the biggest annoyances of flying the unfriendly skies -- well, for gadget-toting travelers, anyway -- is having to turn off your tablet, smartphone, laptop, or eReader while the plane taxis, takes off and lands.

This unpopular policy may be changing soon, however. According to New York Times blogger Nick Bilton, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is rethinking its policy on digital devices. Bilton writes in a Monday post:

"When I called the F.A.A. last week to pester them about this regulation--citing experts and research that says these devices could not harm a plane--the F.A.A. responded differently than it usually does. Laura J. Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs for the F.A.A., said that the agency has decided to take a "fresh look" at the use of personal electronics on planes."

A fresh look would be a breath of fresh air for gadget users--and that's nearly all of us these days. The FAA has long insisted that passengers shut off electronic devices "once the cabin door is closed, until the plane gets above 10,000 feet," says an agency fact sheet.

But why exactly? Well, The FAA insists it's all about safety:

"There are still unknowns about the radio signals that portable electronic devices (PEDs) and cell phones give off. These signals, especially in large quantities and emitted over a long time, may unintentionally affect aircraft communications, navigation, flight control and electronic equipment."

Or perhaps not. Apparently, the agency may finally be listening to a variety of noisy critics (including Bilton himself), who've griped for years that the FAA's gadget-blackout periods are unnecessary.

PCWorld's Melissa Perenson notes that another reason for the rule may be to get passengers to pay attention during takeoff and landing, which are the times when problems are most likely to arise, but again -- perhaps the agency realizes people can be just as involved an unattentive if they're reading a physical book instead of playing Angry Birds.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci at Today@PCWorld, Twitter (@jbertolucci) or jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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