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November 3, 2013

In-flight cell phones: Others likely to follow FAA lead

American safety standards a 'gold standard.'

LONDON (AP) — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says it is relaxing restrictions on the use of smartphones and other electronics inside flights by American carriers. Passengers are still barred from making calls or downloading data off a cellular network, but the OK on using laptops, consoles, e-readers, and other electronics at the beginning and end of each flight will come as a relief to many travelers. Here’s a look at what may be in store for air travelers in the rest of the world.

That seems likely. Across the Atlantic, Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority on Friday said it welcomed the FAA’s move, noting that electronic devices were a fact of modern life and “naturally passengers want to use them when they fly.” Still, it said that European authorities in Brussels would have the final say over whether to loosen rules across the continent.

One academic who has studied the issue said European regulators first followed America’s lead in banning the use of the devices during takeoff and landing and were likely to follow America’s lead again now that the situation had changed.

“American safety is regarded as a gold standard,” said Joseph Lampel, a professor of strategy and innovation at London’s City University and a critic of the current rules. He acknowledged that European regulators had become increasingly independent of their American counterparts, but said it still seemed likely that they would relax the restrictions, which he said “never made any sense.”

There was no answer at the European Aviation Safety Agency on Friday, a public holiday in some parts of Europe.

Conceivably, a passenger traveling from New York to London would be allowed to use a games console on takeoff but would have to turn it off before landing. If that passenger took the same plane home, he or she would have to turn the console off on takeoff but be allowed to use it on landing. It’s a confusing scenario aviation officials say they’re working to avoid.

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