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Qantas, Virgin Australia allow gate-to-gate gadgets

By David Flynn     Filed under: qantas, smartphones, laptops, tablets, ebook readers, Virgin Australia

UPDATE | Passengers on domestic Virgin Australia flights, along with domestic and international Qantas flights, can now use their iPads, Kindles and other personal electronic devices on a 'gate to gate' basis from today, Tuesday August 26.

In plain language, that means you'll be able to keep your kit switched on and used from the moment you step onto your flight through to when it's time to leave the plane.

The exceptions to the new rules: mobile phones and other devices with transmitting capability will need to remain in flight mode, and laptops (due to their weight being greater than 1kg) will still need to be stowed.

And of course, you'll have to pay attention during the safety briefing.

Travellers will also be able to tune into content on Virgin Australia’s own wi-fi entertainment system from gate to gate, or the Q Streaming wireless entertainment service on the Red Roo where available.

Qantas passengers travelling on the majority of trans-Tasman routes can already use personal electronic devices during all phases of flight following a change in ruling by New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority, provided the devices are kept in flight mode.

Virgin Australia and Virgin Samoa flights to or from New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji are excluded as approval has not yet been granted by the New Zealand CAA.

Additionally, Virgin Australia Regional Airlines flights – including between Sydney and Canberra – on ATR 72, Airbus A320, Fokker 50 and Fokker 100 aircraft won't yet see gate to gate gadgets, and neither will VA's flagship Boeing 777 flights to Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi, as Virgin Australia's exemption for its Boeing 737, Embraer 190 and Airbus A330 aircraft doesn't extend to its regional or long-haul arms.

Jetstar, QantasLink and Tigerair still require passengers to switch off their gizmos during take-off and landing, as these airlines remain in the final stages of preparing their submission to Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority for approval.

PREVIOUS | Passengers on domestic Qantas and Virgin Australia flights – as well as Jetstar, Rex and all other Australian airlines – are likely to be using their iPads, Kindles and other personal electronic devices on a 'gate to gate' basis by the end of this year.

With the Civil Aviation Safety Authority this week issuing guidelines to allow tablets, e-book readers and smartphones in flight mode to be used during a flight's taxi, take-off and landing stages, Virgin Australia will next month submit a proposal to CASA aimed to certify its fleet and operating procedures as gadget-friendly.

This would include the use of Virgin's wifi entertainment system which broadcasts movies, TV shows and music directly to a traveller's tablet, laptop or smartphone.

Read: Flight test – Virgin Australia's new wifi entertainment system

"We would welcome a review of the use of personal electronic devices during take-off and landing as we believe it will enhance the customer experience" Virgin Australia spokesman Nathan Scholz told Australian Business Traveller.

For its part, Qantas says it is "working with CASA to enable customers to keep their personal electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets, e-book readers and music players powered on, but in flight mode, through all phases of flight, including on the ground."

“This is something Qantas has been actively pursuing for some time following similar moves in other countries" a spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.

However, it's believed that CASA is working towards a blanket approval for all airlines provided they follow safety guidelines, rather than proceed on an airline-by-airline basis.

Industry sources have indicated to Australian Business Traveller that the process is likely to take several months but will be completed before year's end.

The move will see Australian airlines fall into line with the experience on US and European flights, which permit passengers to use devices up to the size of a tablet from the moment they reach their seat until leaving the aircraft.

However, laptops will still need to be stowed during take-off and landing, and travellers will still need to follow the instructions of the crew at all times.

This includes watching the inflight safety demonstration instead of Game of Thrones and securing your gadgets during turbulence if requested, rather than leaving them on the seat next to you.

Hopefully it won't be long before inflight Internet is added to the mix, if Telstra's Sydney-Melbourne 4G trials are anything to go by.

PREVIOUS | Qantas, Virgin Australia and the Australian air safety regulator CASA are keeping a watchful eye on moves in the US to allow passengers to use Kindles, iPods, smartphones, tablets and even laptops during take-off and landing.

The FAA is considering easing the current restrictions on the use of personal electronic devices at altitudes below 10,000 feet to prevent interference with sensitive cockpit equipment, especially during the critical periods of take-off and landing periods.

Devices such as smartphones would still need to be in flight mode – so there’s no scope for making calls, texting or checking your email.

But devices which emit only very low power, such as ebook readers and tablets, could remain on for the entire ‘gate to gate’ duration of a flight.

“We’ve been fighting for our customers on this issue for years – testing an airplane packed full of Kindles (and) working with the FAA” said Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener in a statement. “This is a big win for customers, and frankly, it’s about time.”

The ball is in CASA's court...

Changing the rules for Australian travellers is the remit of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, and CASA spokesman Peter Gibson told Australian Business Traveller that the authority “will look closely at what the Federal Aviation Administration does with the recommendations”, although he added that  “it may take some time for the FAA to decide what to do.”

Virgin Australia is already “in discussion with CASA to work out what’s possible to improve the experience for our customers” said airline spokesman Nathan Scholz.

“But CASA is the ultimate arbiter and they have the final decision on whether any proposal meets regulation, so we need to abide by their rules and find a way to make them comfortable which whatever we might propose.”

Qantas says its current guidelines prohibiting the use of portable electronic equipment during take-off and landing “were established as a result of our own rigorous testing and the direction of the FAA.”

“We will continue to monitor new learnings in this area as they come to hand.”

One proposal made, and rejected

Australian Business Traveller has learned that at least one Australian airline has previously submitted a proposal to CASA for a softening of its rules, so that ebook readers and similar low-power devices could be used during take-off and landing, but the proposal was rejected.

“It is important to understand that during take-off and landing pilots have a high workload and have minimal time to respond to any interference affecting aircraft systems” says CASA’s Gibson.

“If the airlines wish to change the current restrictions they would have to show there was no risk to safety.”

CASA's concerns aren't solely about possible electronic interference – in the wrong circumstance ebook readers, tablets and laptops could become dangerous flying wedges with the risk of injury to passengers and crew.

The process of 'changing the rules' in Australia is complicated by the fact that CASA has no rules regarding the use of personal electronic devices inflight, including “no specific regulations governing the use of mobile phones in aircraft”, according to Gibson.

“The issue is covered by rules which require aircraft operators to ensure safety is maintained at all times” Gibson told Australian Business Traveller.

“CASA has no current plans to develop specific rules relating to electronic devices.”

So for now, at least, it seems everybody is waiting for the FAA to take the lead.

What's your take: should low-power non-transmitting electronic devices be permitted during take-off and landing?

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About David Flynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

 

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1 on 2/10/13 by KG

I think they should be allowed as the emission of modern day electronic devices is rather low and the aviation insturments of modern day aircraft are less receptive for interference as well. I am always puzzled though by the reasoning of shutting off personal electronic devise during take off and landing. If they interefer at 5K feet, they interefer at 30k feet, so why the distinction? Is it because during take off and landing you are lower to the ground hence if you notice your instruments aren't working properly you would have less time to correct than at 30K feet?

The argument that "during take-off and landing pilots have a high workload and have minimal time to respond to any interference affecting aircraft systems" holds no ground. Remeber AF447 that crashed? It was on cruising altitude, yet pilots did not figure out whthere were inconsistencies in airpseed measurements. You have to be on top of your game and have situational awareness and instrumental awareness regardless of the flight phase.

1 on 2/10/13 by CL9

I totally agree with what you are saying, my only reason I see as plausable to shut off electronic devices only during takeoff and landing, as well as ascend and descent is that 92% of crashes happen during this period, with 56% of crashes happening during just takeoff and landing. Having any abnormalities in instruments during this period could be fatal (even though I believe there is no safety threat from electronic devices whatsoever).

2 on 2/10/13 by KG

I also hope that next on the agenda are the security rules! Liquids in particular....

3 on 2/10/13 by 521303

I hope they keep the ban on phones throughout the flight.  I can't stand sitting next to or near people making calls in public places such as planes, trains, etc.  I just find it so discourteous to me and fellow passengers.

4 on 2/10/13 by AusFlyer

It's about time that the rule was relaxed. I seriously doubt people really put all their devices in flight mode or switch them off completely for take of and landing. Most people probably do their phones but I bet there are a lot of ipads that stay switched on but in sleep mode and I bet they are not all in flight mode either.

1 on 27/6/14 by Octane

Yep, it's just like other laws like coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. Are you meant to do it? Yep. Do lots of people choose not to? Yep? Is it unsafe? Maybe/maybe not. Could it kill someone? Possibly but it'll never happen to me right? I guess it just comes down to individuals making a decision to follow a safety rule even if they don't agree with it, it's inconvenient, or they don't see how it could possibly hurt anyone. Who knows, maybe red lights are overrated, surely if you look both left AND right, it's OK to go on through...As long as you don't get caught.

5 on 2/10/13 by TheRealBabushka

Why am I not surprised that Amazon (Kindle) are pushing for this! Thanks to this rule, I've rediscovered the joy of paperback.

Reading does feel quite special when you can feel the paper between your fingers and hear the sound of the page turning. That crisp new book smell that hits you when you hold a book in your face and balance it between your thumb and index finger, as you try to find a comfortable position in a pressurised cabin.

And a shelf of books, each reminding you of a trip with boarding passes improvised as bookmarks still lodged between the pages...

1 on 2/10/13 by KG

TRB: Can we conclude from the above that your opinion is that personal electronic devices should not be allowed to be used during take off and landing (and perhaps not at all during the flight), but not for obvious safety reasons but merely to push yourself to pick up an old fashioned book to read, rather than grabbing your Ipad? ;-)

1 on 2/10/13 by TheRealBabushka

Yes one might arrive at that conclusion but be it far from me to impose that view on the good people of this forum :p

2 on 2/10/13 by David

LOL! I have to admit, for the first time in a long time I had a book with me on a recent Qantas flight.

And it was rather nice to settle into my seat, open my book, start reading it while the other passengers finished boarding, then continue past the 'switch off your devices now' announcement and through take-off (well, apart from some glances out the window at the receeding cityscape below), through the first drinks service and to dinner.

For somebody who is more likely to be browsing an ebook or tapping away on the laptop, it was quite a novel experience (no pun intended).

1 on 28/8/14 by gippsflyer

The only reason I bring a hard copy book with me on domestic flights was to cover that "no electronics" blackout - otherwise I'd willing forego the tangible pleasures of a real book for the benefit of less items to bring on board. I'll be able to now just read the much more transportable iPad e-book version instead, or make the most of the streaming movie offerings. Looking forward to it!

6 on 2/10/13 by P.B.

I thought one of the reasons of justifying no electronic devices between take-off and landing was so that your audible attention could be captured by the crew in an emergency, which would be hampered if a passenger was listening to their own music on their personal device... (Slightly OT: you can tell between well-trained QF FAs by whether they visually check whether your non-airline headphones are plugged into the IFEs vs harassing you to plug them in even if they are!)

i can understand iPads and e-readers being lifted off the restrictions, iPhones/iPods and music players... Not so much.

1 on 3/10/13 by moa999

mr_pb.

Agree with this... A passenger playing death metal at full bore may not hear brace, brace etc... and a blanket rule makes it easier for FAs to enforce - diffucult in a Y cabin with all the bodies.

Interesting on a recent BA flight they now say that only BA supplied headphones can be in your ears during takeoff and landing (ie no active/passive noise cancellers) - presumably so if you are wearing them you will still definitely get the announcements.

On the recline issue, i'm of the view that the airline chose reclining seats - so go ahead during non-meal times but check first... I also note that when Jetstar installed non-reclining seats they got panned, so there is clearly a big demand for reclinign.

7 on 3/10/13 by aero-seat

There would be a lot of confusion when passengers are told that they can use their laptops and tablets, but not their phones. 

Since most accidents occur during takeoff and landing, people may be distracted by their electronic devices rather than the crew trying to do a safety demonstration or give instructions. Therefore, I think they should remain banned even if they don't pose a threat to the aircraft.

8 on 11/10/13 by Mikey

I would prefer to err on the side of 'better safe than sorry' unless tests can definitively say there is no legitimate risk. That saying, I would say almost ALL flights has atleast one (if not many more) person/s still on their phone during takeoff and landing anyway (hell, I see it on nearly every flight myself!).

Atleast if this does go ahead, FA's can spend less of their time telling people off?

1 on 25/6/14 by Robert

Should any moron open up on a cell phone on  the future flights even if its legal and booth next to or near me..i will garantee that person is going to have a worse flight experience than me.Cant stand the a holes in the lounges who speak like it is to deaf grandma.

9 on 25/6/14 by mitchimus

It was great to fly with BA in Europe a couple of weeks ago and not have to turn everything off once the doors shut.

10 on 28/6/14 by tagle

I think there's a few points to be made regarding the broader scope of this issue.At this point in time, there exists no actual regulation that prevents the use of PED's from being used apart from some limitations during refuelling operations. The key point here is that the airline is largely responsible for the oversight, and additionally are to prove to the regulator that the use of PED's at these new additional stages of flight have been considered to have no adverse affect on safety - that said it probably has little to do with device 'emissions.'A point can be made is the concern regarding the safety and stowage of the device. This largely remains what is likely to be a contentious point - how is something 'secured' and/or does it need to be 'stowed?' And, if there is a difference this will likely be driven largely around the procedures Qantas or Virgin will wish to implement. The additional onus on the airline is again to ensure that people pay attention to safety commands, instructions and or briefings. How this can be assured is yet to be known and the exemptions airlines are applying for are largely at the hands of CASA and the time lords. I believe it will be a matter of time and due process.

11 on 29/6/14 by John Carlton

I have been told by technical peope witihn the industry that the issue is not so much the interference from one iPhone at 30,000 feet as the interference from several dozen iPhones at 30 feet when passengers all have a sudden and simultaneous compulsion to pull their phones out to tell the rellies or whoever is going to meet them that they are about to land.

12 on 5/8/14 by Johno_H

I was on a Qantas Internation flight yesterday - 4/5/14 - Wellington, NZ > SYD - 737. The staff announces a policy change. Small electronics were free to use during take off and landing - obvioulsy "flight mode" had to be on the whole time.

Was fantastic to be able to start watching a movie on my ipad or listen to music from gate to gate. 

Was then on a Qantas Domestic that evening - SYD > CBR  - Dash8 - no use during take off and landing and still not allowed to use headphones either.

Is it just international flights? Is it just flights to NZ? Did a quick search and there have been no announcements from Qantas.

1 on 25/8/14 by ILIKEPLANES101

For VA its domestic and QF its international and domestic

13 on 25/8/14 by Opto80

  • Awesome news. Can't wait to make the most of this on Thursday on VA. 

14 on 26/8/14 by smit0847

Pax won't even hear the request to put their devices onto flight mode if they have headphones in, let alone actually do it. I wonder if this will lead to the end of the safety demonstration if no-one is listening to it?

15 on 26/8/14 by markpk

Somebody clearly forgot to tell the Qantas hosties on QF507 this morning - still being told to power down...

1 on 26/8/14 by David

As the article explains (see third par), Qantas won't be enacting the new rules until 3pm today, Mark.

1 on 26/8/14 by markpk

Ahh, missed that bit David!

1 on 26/8/14 by undertheradar

pretty much sums up the general publics excuses on many things...'ahhh missed that '...'ahhh didnt read that'...'ahhh didnt see that'...'ahhh didnt hear that'...etc...and given the twits (tweets) on the airlines' twit page, many people have not read the actual details regarding each airline, and/or dont even know their device has 'flight mode' or know how to find it!!

1 on 26/8/14 by markpk

Reading it on an iPhone can be tough sometimes...but it was a silly miss on my part!

2 on 26/8/14 by undertheradar

i think an apology to the 'hosties' of QF507 would be nice :)

16 on 29/8/14 by Himeno

About time CASA allowed this.

Now if only CASA will allow Australian airlines to use greater then ETOPS180

17 on 10/9/14 by Jeremy

So now everyone I see is texting and facebooking etc around me from gate to gate if they have phone signal.

Everyone always pushes the next level .

I won't be happy if someone next to me ever starts taking or making calls

 

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