How new inflight gadget rules affect you

"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. 

Start working the moment you sit down. Picture: iStock

Start working the moment you sit down. Picture: iStock

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. 

SMH

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