Changes to Airline Policies involving Personal Electronic Devices
by Megan Kelly
The US Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recently announced that airlines may expand their rules and policies involving Portable Electronic Devices (also known as PED’s). This change concerns all phases of flight, including takeoff and landing. Although policies and rules differ from airline to airline, the FAA anticipates that by the end of this year, most airlines will allow passengers to use their PED’s safely in airplane mode, during all phases of flight.
This is good news for those with non-verbal autism. Up until now, flight attendants have often forced both autistic children and adults to power off their PED’s during takeoff and landing, even after having the reason for the devices being left on explained to them. The attendants have had no choice but to follow the policies of the FAA, which states that all electronic devices must be off while taking off and landing on an airplane. For many individuals with non-verbal autism, this presents serious problems, as these people often use their PED’s, in particular ipads, in order to communicate with others. Many people with non-verbal autism have no other way to communicate clearly. Some can sometimes use partial sign language, but often not nearly enough to communicate as well or as clearly as they can with their PED’s.
In August of 2012, Carly Fleischmann a famous non-verbal autistic that uses electronics to communicate was told to turn off and put away her ipad while on a plane during takeoff. Although she often traveled as an author and advocate for autism, she had never before been asked to power off her device after letting the flight crew know the importance of having it on. This particular flight was different. Even after Carly used her ipad to explain that she needed it to communicate, not for playing games or anything unnecessary, the attendant repeated that all devices on the plane had to be turned off. She said that it was airline and FAA policy and that everyone on board had to follow it, no exceptions.
Carly was very distressed by this incident. She had to spend over twenty five minutes with no way to communicate with anyone. If there had been a problem with her seat belt, or she had been ill, or seen something suspicious or dangerous on the plane, she would have had no way to tell anyone, or ask for help. Carly decided to write about what had happened on her Facebook page, which has thousands of followers.
“My ipad to me is like a voice. Can you imagine being on the airplane and being asked not to talk for over twenty five minutes?” Carly said in the account of what had happened. The full story about what happened, and also an open letter Carly wrote to the airline, can be seen on Carly’s Facebook page here:
This October the FAA released a list of the key things passengers should know about the expanded use of PED’s on airplanes.
“Top Things Passengers Should Know about Expanded Use of PEDs on Airplanes:
1. Make safety your first priority.
2. Changes to PED policies will not happen immediately and will vary by airline. Check with your airline to see if and when you can use your PED.
3. Current PED policies remain in effect until an airline completes a safety assessment, gets FAA approval, and changes its PED policy.
4. Cell phones may not be used for voice communications.
5. Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled. You may use the WiFi connection on your device if the plane has an installed WiFi system and the airline allows its use. You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.
6. Properly stow heavier devices under seats or in the overhead bins during takeoff and landing. These items could impede evacuation of an aircraft or may injure you or someone else in the event of turbulence or an accident.
7. During the safety briefing, put down electronic devices, books and newspapers and listen to the crewmember’s instructions.
8. It only takes a few minutes to secure items according to the crew’s instructions during takeoff and landing.
9. In some instances of low visibility – about one percent of flights – some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.
10. Always follow crew instructions and immediately turn off your device if asked.”
Hopefully the recent changes in FAA policies will soon allow everyone to fly more safely and comfortably, including those with non-verbal autism like Carly.