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Turn OFF your phone or WE'LL ALL DI... live? Europe OKs mobes, tabs non-stop on flights

Airlines given green light to allow gate-to-gate jibber-jabber

If you fancy spending your next European airline flight sitting next to someone who's carrying on a protracted conversation via mobile phone, you're in luck.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has issued new guidance to European airlines allowing them to permit passengers to keep phones and other portable electronic devices (PEDs) switched on throughout flights, regardless of whether the devices are in "airplane mode."

"This is the latest regulatory step towards enabling the ability to offer ‘gate-to-gate’ telecommunication or WiFi services," the agency said on Friday.

The regulators define PEDs as "any kind of electronic device brought on board the aircraft by a passenger such as a tablet, a laptop, a smartphone, an e-reader or a MP3 player."

EASA loosened its restrictions on devices in 2013 such that passengers don't have to switch them off, provided their Wi-Fi, cellular, Bluetooth, and other radios are disabled.

With the new guidance issued on Friday, airplane mode becomes something of a misnomer, as passengers are free to leave their devices' radios active throughout takeoff, landing, and the flight itself.

That's not to say airlines have been given a rubber stamp to let passengers do whatever they want. Each carrier must go through an assessment process to ensure that aircraft are not affected by transmissions coming from passengers' devices – and submitting to the assessment is entirely voluntary.

"Because it is a decision of each airline, you may experience differences among airlines whether and when PEDs can be used," EASA said. "In addition, you may experience differences within one airline depending on the aircraft type."

US government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission, have similarly been rethinking their restrictions on gadgets during flights. In October 2013, the FAA gave airlines the thumbs-up to allow device use at all times except during takeoff and landing, although many carriers still ask passengers to keep their electronics in airplane mode.

Under EASA's new policy, however, passengers can keep texting and gabbing from when they board to the moment the plane lands, although airline crews still have the authority to tell them to switch off.

The catch, of course, is that passengers in a plane flying at 35,000 feet probably won't be able to connect to GSM towers on the ground, so it will be up to airlines to provide in-flight telecoms services if they're so inclined.

EASA has helpfully published a FAQ on the new guidance in the form of an interview with a device. ®

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