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Using mobile phones and tablets on planes in Europe

In recent days, there has been much discussion about the use of gadgets on planes, following a decision made by America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This has left a lot of people asking: ‘But can I use my mobile phone on a flight in Europe?’

The answer to that question is not as straightforward as you might imagine. Firstly, it is important to point out that the FAA still does not permit the use of devices that are sending and receiving a cellular signal during any portion of a flight.

In other words, phones and tablets must have their voice, SMS and mobile data capabilities disabled. Passengers are, however, allowed to use any on-flight Wi-Fi network that is provided by an airline.

By contrast, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has never imposed a blanket ban on using devices that send and receiving a cellular signal . Instead, airlines are able to allow their passengers to use their phones and tablets in this way, providing that they can demonstrate to the EASA that it is safe to do so.

Some European airless offer mobile connectivity on board their planes. The most prominent systems has been developed by UK-based AeroMobile Communications, and is capable of offering voice, SMS and data services.

AeroMobile state that their system can only be used once a plane reaches 6,000 meters above the ground. Some airlines, such as Aer Lingus offer both AeroMobile and Wi-Fi services, with the latter being available at just over 3,000 meters above the ground.

Even if you fly with a European airline to America, though, it still won’t be possible to chat away on your phone once stateside. As Virgin Atlantic make clear on the website, due to the FAA’s restrictions, the AeroMobile system is switched off automatically when planes enter American airspace.

The FAA has now moved closer to the European position, in that airlines may apply for the relevant permissions on a case-by-case basis. But in America portable electronic devices may be used for the entire duration of a flight, whereas in Europe they must not be used during the takeoff or landing phases.

So it is still possible to make wider use of gadgets’ capabilities on some European airlines than their American counterparts. But whilst it is still not possible to use cellular services on American airlines, devices can be switched on for the entire duration of a flight.

The EASA participated on the recent FAA review panel and will likely also allow the use of devices during the entire duration of a flight. The decision will follow the FAA’s move, as the EASA has to first liaise with national authorities across Europe, such as the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

On both sides of the Atlantic, restrictions on device use vary from airline-to-airline. So despite the changes, passengers will still need to check what policies are in place.

Image credit: Aero Icarus