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Alaska Airlines allows gate-to-gate use of smart phones and tablets

Lisa Demer
Erik Hill

Starting Saturday morning, passengers on all Alaska Airlines flights will be able to entertain themselves gate to gate much the same way they do on the ground -- listening to their iTunes, reading on their Kindles, playing computer games and watching downloaded movies or DVDs.

Passengers no longer will have to turn off personal electronic devices, including smart phones, tablets, book readers and laptops.

For safety reasons, larger devices, such as laptops, will need to be stowed during takeoff and landing, Alaska Airlines said. Devices will need to be put on airplane mode, and cell phones still can't be used to make calls or send texts from the air.

During certain flights, the crew still may require all electronic devices to be turned off. The Federal Aviation Administration says that could happen during low visibility landings when passenger electronics could interfere with equipment in the cockpit. The FAA estimated it would occur in about 1 percent of all flights.

On Oct. 31, the FAA announced it would allow passengers gate-to-gate screen time if individual airlines could prove it could be done safely.

"Of course, this is something our passengers are very interested in being able to do, so we wanted to do it as soon as possible," Nancy Trott, an Alaska Airlines spokeswoman, said Friday evening.

Flight attendants will instruct passengers to put their devices on airplane mode and to stow the larger items.

"They are not expected to police it beyond that," Trott said. If someone then tries to talk or text with their cell phone, the attendant will ask that they stop doing so.

"Right now, when we ask them to turn them off, they are usually pretty good about turning them off and we are pretty confident they will do so and follow our instructions," she said.

To win FAA approval, Alaska Airlines "had to ensure any interference would not disrupt our navigation systems and communication systems," Trott said.

Alaska Airlines expects that Horizon Air passengers will be able to use their electronic devices gate-to-gate next week and flights on SkyWest Airlines should follow, once the FAA approves.

The FAA said it decided to relax the restrictions after experts from airlines, aircraft manufacturers, passenger groups, pilot associations, flight attendants, and mobile devices studied the risks.

In addition, Alaska Airlines is upgrading its newer model 737s so that by the end of next year, every seat will have a power plug in and a USB connector. It will be the only airline in the country to offer that at every seat in most planes, Trott said. The first plane with plug-ins at every seat will fly next month.

Other airlines, including Delta, also have announced gate-to-gate use of electronic devices.

Passengers who want WiFi service still will have to pay for a Gogo connection, Alaska Airlines said.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

 


By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com