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Gadgets are go for take-off and landing


High Flyer

David Flynn is a business travel expert and the editor of Australian Business Traveller.

View more entries from High Flyer

Start working the moment you sit down.

Start working the moment you sit down. Photo: iStock

"Please turn off any mobile phones, tablets or e-book readers."

That announcement from Qantas and Virgin Australia crew as your plane is made ready for take-off or landing is now a thing of the past.

Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority this week declared that both airlines can allow passengers to use tablets, e-book readers, MP3 players and smartphones (set to 'flight mode') during a flight's taxi, take-off and landing stages.

However, of all these devices, it's the use of tablets that is the most significant win for business travellers, enabling you to get on with real work from the moment you sit down - except paying attention to the safety briefing - whereas laptop computers still need to be securely stashed in the overhead bin during take-off and landing. 

It's what the boffins call 'gate-to-gate' usage of 'personal electronic devices', and Qantas and Virgin Australia were quick off the mark to declare that the days of the great switch-off for inflight gadgets are over.

Travellers can now use their personal tech for the entire duration of the flight. And for my money, it's not come a moment too soon.

Gate-to-gate gadgets

The gate-to-gate gadget wave has already swept across the US, Europe and, most recently, New Zealand.

Last month I flew with Air New Zealand from Auckland to Los Angeles, and later with British Airways on a short hop between London and New York.

On each of those flights I was able to use my kit from the moment I settled into my seat through to when it was time to grab my carry-on bag and make for the door.

On the Air NZ flight it meant remaining engrossed in the latest Stephen King book, a virtual page-turner on my Kindle. With BA, I was able to catch up with a TV show on my iPad.

I'll grant that none of this is highly productive, mission-critical stuff. But it's enjoyable – and isn't that what travel is supposed to be, ideally for as much of the journey as possible?

It'll be more practical in Australia, especially on short trips where the non-flying time is a large proportion of your time on the plane.

Under the previous CASA rules - which required your tech to be powered off for all but the level flight stage -  there was almost no point switching the gear back on if you're doing the short Sydney-Canberra or Melbourne-Canberra jaunt.

Zipping between Sydney and Melbourne? That meant almost half an hour where you couldn't use those personal devices, and more with the almost inevitable delays.

There are some caveats, of course.

No matter how enjoyable that e-book, how addictive that video or how groovy those MP3 tunes, you'll still have to pay full attention during the safety briefing. And that's as it should be.

The tablet wins

And while tablets are OK to use during the taxi, take-off and landing stages, according to the new CASA rules, laptops will still have to be stowed.

The simplest reading of that is "tablets good, laptops bad", although some small ultra-light laptops will blur the line.

CASA's decree is that those devices with "a mass more than 1kg or are of a size that would impede egress" are headed for the overhead bin or any other "approved stowage location".

Tablets, phones and e-book readers can be held in your hands, tucked away in your pocket or the seat's literature compartment, as long as they're not left sitting unsecured on the empty seat next to you.

CASA's primary concern over these inflight gadgets is safety, and that's not just about them interfering with the plane's own electronics.

In November 2013, Qantas flight QF460 from Melbourne to Sydney faced extreme turbulence as it approached Sydney Airport – so much so that two passengers were injured by unsecured devices.

"One passenger suffered a minor injury due to an iPad striking their head, reportedly coming from three rows in front," according to CASA.

"Another passenger was hospitalised after being struck in the head by a laptop falling from an overhead locker."

Of course, some will suggest that we tech-toting travellers should just suck it up and switch it off. They'll remind us of those sun-drenched days before iDevices and even the pre-Walkman era, when all you had was a book or a magazine to pass the time in flight.

And sometimes I embrace that contemplative, disconnected time.

I usually enjoy the view at take-off and always as we come in for a landing, especially with that great view arriving into Sydney or London.

But at least I'll soon have a choice, and that's not before time.

How much of a difference will this new regulation make to your travel plans?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller

twitter Follow Australian Business Traveller

43 comments so far

  • This is great news for those who don't like flying and people like me with the in-ability to "pop" my ears, I need something to take my mind off the most painful parts of the journey, landing and most definitely the landing. I have not had much problems with my ebook reader on most flights until now, but some flights are more strict than others. My reader has no wireless functions at all and only really draws power when the page turns.

    Date and time
    August 26, 2014, 3:15PM
    • 'Popping' your ears - Squeeze your nose between your thumb and forefinger, lift your head up and back to stretch your neck (and eustachion tubes) then gently blow until you feel the pressure in your inner ears equalise. I had lots of painful trouble until I found this little trick. It works a treat. Begin as soon as the plane begins to descend and regularly thereafter until landing.

      Date and time
      August 26, 2014, 9:08PM
    • the issue is not electronic signals but to have devices (especially the bigger ones like tablets and laptops) stowed during takeoff and landing for safety reasons, to avoid injuries from unsecured devices flying about the cabin.

      Date and time
      August 27, 2014, 11:31AM
  • those lucky business men and women who are able to keep working from gate to gate, what a life!! nothing can wait can it, quick quick get back to work, don't switch off, enjoy

    Date and time
    August 26, 2014, 3:19PM
    • If they are flying during normal business hours, why shouldn't they be working? It is not a holiday.

      bio logical
      Date and time
      August 26, 2014, 7:43PM
    • ..@ bio logical. So the only "work" that can be done is electronic and requires a 'device"?

      Also, by that "logic" work should continue in the elevator, on the stairs, while driving between appointments etc etc. If the "work" is, as I have suggested, more cerebral and leaves room for thoughtful invention and reflection, then ok. But device driven ? not so "logical'.

      I take every opportunity to power down and reconnect with my brain..those jaunts between Sydney and Melb are perfect.

      Date and time
      August 27, 2014, 6:39AM
    • @genieass. Neither I nor Jo mentioned anything about devices. That spare time while travelling is causing your imagination to run wild.

      You have a definite whiff of white collar arrogance. Consider those manual workers who actually produce something rather than the poor souls like you who are working their brains so hard they need down time.

      bio logical
      Date and time
      August 29, 2014, 2:52PM
    • @ bio illogical:

      the article is about devices on planes,

      Talking about businessmen working (your own words) on a plane, when responding to an article about "devices on a plane" pretty much suggests that they are not laying bricks or digging ditches.

      Date and time
      September 01, 2014, 6:30AM
  • If phones must still be switched to flight mode, what is the risk of not doing so, and how can they tell if you don't?

    Date and time
    August 26, 2014, 3:48PM
    • Well one way is when your phone starts ringing during take off. It happened to me when I simply forgot to turn off my phone. The plane didn't crash but I was somewhat embarrassed - luckily flight crew were strapped in so never knew it was me!

      retired now
      Date and time
      August 26, 2014, 7:43PM

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