The days of having to completely power down all electronics for take-off and landing come to an end today in Australia, at least for those flying on most aircraft in the Virgin and Qantas fleet.
Devices must remain in flight mode as 3G/4G connectivity, voice and SMS access remains banned, and while larger tablets and other larger devices must still be stowed, there are plenty of standard tablets, smartphones, ebook readers and digital media players that can now be used gate to gate.
Both carriers have received authorisation from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority, CASA, who has changed its ruling on personal electronic devices inflight, following an announcement by the United States' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in October last year that it would allow passengers to leave their electronic devices on through all phases of flight if individual airlines could prove that it did not interfere with the operation of the aircraft.
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Qantas says that experts from airlines, aircraft manufacturers, passenger groups, pilot associations, flight attendants, and mobile services have since been investigating the impact of personal electronic devices inflight.
The change heralds effectively uninterrupted access to work and entertainment, with the change to become more widespread when Jetstar and QantasLink also receive CASA approval, with both Qantas sub-carriers in the final stages of preparing CASA submissions.
Qantas Domestic Chief Executive Officer Lyell Strambi said: "We're delighted to give Qantas customers the freedom and flexibility to use their personal electronic devices from the moment they board the plane until they disembark.
"Whether customers choose to listen to music, read their e-books or review work documents the introduction of gate-to-gate electronic access on Qantas flights is an exciting development to an already exceptional inflight entertainment service.
"Qantas was the first Australian airline to introduce Inflight Entertainment and provide wireless devices on board so it's great to be able to capitalise on these features for our customers.
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"Qantas has conducted rigorous testing to assess the impacts of electronic devices on the safe operation of aircraft. We are confident that these devices are safe to be turned on, but in flight mode, for the duration of each flight."
News.com.au quoted Virgin Australia Chief Customer Officer Mark Hassell saying: "Today's announcement meant that our customers will be able to use their personal devices throughout their entire journey with us, maximising their work or leisure time."
However, Mr Hassell said that initially, only customers flying Boeing 737, Embraer 190 or Airbus 330 aircraft will be able to take advantages of the changes, with "other aircraft in Virgin Australia's fleet still requiring more testing and approvals prior to launching gate-to-gate access for personal handheld devices".
Qantas has issued some advice for customers, stating:
- Devices can be used whether passengers are boarding via aerobridge or transiting across tarmac.
- Once aircraft doors are closed for departure, devices will need to be in 'flight mode'.
- Customers are required to secure handheld devices by holding them or placing them in a seat pocket during taxi, take-off and landing. Larger items such as laptops will still need to be stowed.
- Customers are still required to listen to all inflight safety briefings and comply with cabin crew instructions.
- Mobile and smart phones will still not be able to be used to make calls or send texts from the air.
- Qantas plans to lift restrictions on electronic devices across the entire Qantas Group for regional, domestic and international flights.
- QantasLink and Jetstar are in the final stages of preparing their submission to CASA for the extended use of personal electronic devices.
Finally, Qantas says it is "working towards enabling customers to use their own devices to access 350 hours of on-demand entertainment from gate to gate on selected Domestic and International aircraft" for iPads and iPhones, with laptop and Android device access due "at a later stage".
This follows Virgin's rollout of a similar system, already being advertised on TV.
When Qantas rolls out its updated entertainment system, its customers only need download the Q Streaming app to their device, or connect via their browser to the Q Streaming Inflight Entertainment network to access movies, TV shows and music.
Qantas will continue to offer complimentary tablets for customers to access Q Streaming on a number of aircraft types.
The new policy goes into place on Qantas Domestic and International flights today at 3pm, while Virgin Australia's tweet simply specified that the new policy would go in place today.
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