While most consumers supported the FAA's decision to allow passengers to use portable electronic devices such as tablets, laptop computers, e-readers and cell phones in airplane mode throughout the flight, the recent FCC announcement that it is considering allowing cellphone calls on airplanes has received quite a bit of backlash. A petition quickly went up on the White House Web site immediately following the announcement on Thursday, November 21st, asking the Obama administration to stop the effort, stating: "This would make an already cranky, uncomfortable travel experience exponentially worse."
The FCC is planning to meet on December 12th to decide whether to put the proposal out for public comment. If approved, the new guidelines would give airlines the ability to install special equipment to relay wireless signals from the plane to the ground, but the companies would not be obligated to do so. Cellphone calls are already permitted on some European flights.
If you are a bit confused about what you can use and when, the FAA put out an infographic (below). The FCC ruling a few weeks ago allows airplane travelers to watch videos and play games with their electronic devices throughout their entire flight — and not just above a certain altitude. However, connecting to the Internet remains prohibited when the plane is less than 10,000 feet in the air. Voice calls are not allowed (yet), and the proposed policy changes by the FCC would allow cellphone calls only when the plane is above 10,000 feet.
To make things a bit more confusing, each airline will roll-out their new device policies individually, so you will need to check with your airline before turning on your device.