Currently, most airlines ban the use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) during takeoff and landing, citing potential interference with the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems. But this may change soon, as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has just loosened the rules, and is immediately providing airlines with implementation guidance.
Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions. Electronic items, books and magazines, must be held or put in the seat back pocket during the actual takeoff and landing roll. Cell phones should be in airplane mode or with cellular service disabled - i.e., no signal bars displayed - and cannot be used for voice communications based on FCC regulations that prohibit any airborne calls using cell phones. If your air carrier provides Wi-Fi service during flight, you may use those services. You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.
That said, the FAA is also quick to point out that implementation will vary across airlines; it’s after all up to an airline to decide how and when they will allow passengers broader use of such devices. However, the agency expects many airlines to follow the guidance (assessing the risks of potential PED-induced avionics problems first, revising stowing policies, and training the crew on the new rules - just to name a few) and seek the agency’s approval to allow their passengers to use their devices in airplane mode from gate-to-gate by the end of this year.
There are some exceptions too. Phone calls are still prohibited, and larger items like laptops have to be stowed during takeoff and landing so that they don’t become a hazard in the event of an emergency that requires an evacuation. In an FAQ, the FAA also states that at certain times (e.g. a landing in reduced visibility), the Captain may request passengers to turn off their devices to make absolutely sure they don’t interfere with onboard communications and navigation equipment.
Now, it’s important to remember that these new rules affect U.S. airlines first, since foreign airlines follow the PED regulations of their native country’s civil aviation authority. However, the FAA says that it’s sharing information and working with international civil aviation authorities to harmonize the requirements as much as possible.