From lighter navigation equipment to better connectivity, technology is making commercial flight easier and more attractive. At the same time, it's also enabling potentially troubling security changes on the ground. We chart the implementation of gadgets, apps, and new research in air travel.
Aug 17, 2015
A software update grounded hundreds of flights over the weekend
A problematic FAA software update led to almost 1,000 flight delays and cancellations on Saturday in the Washington, DC area. The outage lasted from 11AM ET until about 4PM ET. It directly affected flights at Baltimore-Washington International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, and Dulles International airports, which in turn affected flights around the country.Read Article >
The update was meant to enhance the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) computer system used by flight controllers to handle route requests and changes. Those new features have been rolled back in the meantime.
Apr 29, 2015
Sam Byford, Elizabeth Lopatto and 1 more
iPad app issue grounds 'a few dozen' American Airlines flights
Multiple American Airlines flights were thrown into chaos tonight as an app issue with the on-board iPads used by pilots made it impossible to take off. Affected flights appeared to include AA2413, AA2276, AA1654, AA235, and AA128. Attempts to reach American Airlines directly were not initially successful, but the company confirmed the issue to passenger Bill Jacaruso via Twitter.Read Article >
"Some flights are experiencing an issue with a software application on pilot iPads," American Airlines spokesperson Andrea Huguely later told The Verge. "In some cases, the flight has had to return to the gate to access a Wi-Fi connection to fix the issue. We apologize for the inconvenience to our customers. We are working to have them on the way to their destination as soon as possible." Another spokesperson said that the issue affected "a few dozen flights" across the airline. "We've identified the issue, we've identified the solution, and we are working on it right now."
May 8, 2014
United Airlines iOS update lets passengers watch TV and movies directly through its app
Airlines increasingly warming to tablets as an alternative to the traditional seat-mounted screens. After an update to its iOS app today, United Airlines allows users to watch in-flight entertainment from an iPhone or iPad, a feature it first promised in February. While there aren't many new details, a previous press release promised around 150 movies and 200 TV shows, roughly the same number listed for its seat-back entertainment system. Content is delivered over the Wi-Fi network, but it doesn't look like you'll need to pay in order to get access.Read Article >
United's Android app doesn't have the feature yet, but it's been promised for later this year. If you don't have an iOS device, it's also possible to watch on a laptop, either directly through the browser or with the help of a plugin, which theoretically means even Android users could get access to some content. For now, though, only passengers on some planes will be able to use the system. It will eventually come to all planes, but the February statement said it would be available first for Airbus A319, Airbus A320, Boeing 747-400 and some 777-200 aircraft.
Apr 8, 2014
Gogo is bringing peak internet speeds of over 70Mbps to international flights
In-flight internet service provider Gogo just revealed a new technology that is expected to deliver peak speeds of over 70Mbps. The new technology is called 2Ku, named for its two Ku-band satellite antennas. The 70Mbps peak speeds are a considerable improvement compared to the 9.8Mbps speeds available today and the 3.1Mbps speeds Gogo was offering to commercial aircraft passengers five years ago. Gogo's Chief Technology officer Anand Chari says in a statement that the company anticipates peak speeds of more than 100Mbps when new spot beam satellite technologies become available.Read Article >
2Ku will also employ specialized satellite antennas designed to provide better support in tropical locations, greater overall reliability and lower drag on the aircraft. Japan Airlines is expected to be the first to trial the new 2Ku technology, which Gogo estimates will be available to the commercial aviation market by mid-2015.
Feb 12, 2014
Virgin America announces social network to help you make business contacts in the sky
As Virgin Atlantic begins testing Google Glass as a check-in tool, its American counterpart has announced the launch of a custom social network designed to connect passengers in flight. Virgin America and Here On Biz, a location-aware social app centered on business connections, have collaborated to make the app work at 35,000 feet by leveraging Gogo's in-flight Wi-Fi network and an API that calculates an aircraft's location in the sky. Those using the app will be able to message others on their flight, at their destination, or other Virgin America planes; Here On Biz uses LinkedIn for contact and login information.Read Article >
"This partnership allows flyers to take advantage of those serendipitous travel moments where people with complementary business interests are in the same place at the same time — even if that place is on a plane somewhere 35,000 feet above the US," said Here On Biz CEO Nick Smoot. "With our iOS app and this partnership with Virgin America, you can find your next big connection in seat 4C — or even just a row away from you."
Feb 12, 2014
New FAA rule keeps pilots from using personal electronics in the cockpit
While recent changes to Federal Aviation Administration laws meant airline passengers could use their personal electronic devices more freely during all phases of a flight, it's done just the opposite within the cockpit. A new rule that goes into effect two months from now means pilots can no longer use electronics devices like cell phones, tablets, or computers for "personal use," reports The Wall Street Journal. Those devices can still be used in order to conduct their job, the FAA says, something that's now very clearly spelled out in the new requirements.Read Article >
Feb 11, 2014
Virgin Atlantic using Google Glass, Sony smartwatches for London passenger check-in
Virgin Atlantic has begun a six-week test aimed at giving its employees more information about some passengers as they enter the London Heathrow airport. The program, which is currently designed only to aid customer-service staff attending to upper-class passengers, uses Google Glass and Sony's SmartWatch 2 to serve up information about passengers and their destinations:Read Article >
Dec 12, 2013
FCC takes first step towards allowing in-flight cellphone use, calling for public commentRead Article >
The FCC has voted to take public comment on a proposal to lift the ban on cellphones, with a final decision to be made later, Financial Times reports. The commission voted 3 to 2 in favor of allowing comments and opening the door to allowing cell use, taking public and expert opinion into account for a second vote. That decision could reverse a policy from the 1990s, taking into account new tests and changes in technology, but as the almost evenly split vote this time suggests, the proposal has been controversial. FCC Chair Tom Wheeler himself has said he'd prefer to fly without hearing phone calls, and the Department of Transportation could ground the proposal even if the FCC determines it's technologically feasible, potentially restricting use to mobile data and texting.
Nov 21, 2013
Southwest Airlines now lets you use electronics during takeoff and landing
The days of having to turn off your cellphone when boarding a flight are nearly done. Southwest Airlines just became the latest US carrier to allow personal electronics use during all phases of flight. It's the seventh major US airline to do so.Read Article >
Though Southwest seems quite happy about the decision — taking the opportunity to advertise its inflight Wi-Fi services — the company cautions that not every personal electronic device can be used. "Bulky laptops and devices larger than a tablet must be stowed during taxi, takeoff, and landing," the airline warns.
Nov 8, 2013
US Airways and Alaska Airlines now allow electronics during all phases of flight
First it was JetBlue and Delta. Then American and United joined in. Now, US Airways is the latest airline letting customers use electronic devices during all phases of flight. The new freedom, which comes thanks to relaxed FAA guidelines, is in effect as of today, and passengers may use their e-books, tablets and smartphones, during taxi, takeoff and landing — with cellular devices in airplane mode, of course.Read Article >
Today's announcement applies to US Airways mainline aircraft, and the company says it's working with "all partner airlines operating as US Airways Express to ensure timely implementation of their individual programs. Those apparently require separate FAA approval. "US Airways applauds the FAA's decision to expand the use of personal electronics onboard and thanks the agency and its team of experts for their diligence in examining this issue," said Kerry Hester, the airline's senior VP of customer experience.
Nov 8, 2013
Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi now able to handle phone calls and texts in the air
Gogo's in-flight Wi-Fi is starting to roll out a major new feature: the ability to send and receive text messages and phone calls while up in the air. Call and texts over Gogo's new Talk & Text service have to be made through its upcoming iOS or upcoming Android app, but Gogo says that they'll all be made using the phone's own number, so nothing will change for people who contact you. The feature isn't available on any consumer flights just yet — though it recently launched with a few business partners — but Gogo says that it's in talks to get it up and running on commercial airlines by the end of this year or the first quarter of 2014.Read Article >
Gogo's chief marketing officer, Ash ElDifrawi, says that the company expects most people to use the service for text messaging. "While we see this as more of a text messaging product for commercial airlines in the United States, the phone functionality is something that some international air carriers and our business aviation customers are asking for," ElDifrawi says in a statement. A representative explained to The Verge that its airline partners, like Delta and American Airlines, are not interested in bringing in-flight phone calls to their planes — and it's not hard to imagine why. Indeed, Gogo already blocks Skype and other such services from using its internet in the skies at the request of such airlines, and the company does not expect to launch its voice services on any domestic flights.
Nov 7, 2013
United becomes the latest airline to let customers use electronic devices gate-to-gate
JetBlue and Delta were the first two airlines to let customers use electronic devices during takeoff and landing, and now United Airlines is joining the pack. The company announced today that it was providing "electronics-friendly cabins" for domestic flights, allowing passengers to use their phones, tablets, and other devices throughout the entire duration of a flight — provided they're in airplane mode, of course.Read Article >
The shift comes after the Federal Aviation Administration officially allowed the use of electronic devices through all phases of flight, addressing a long-standing consumer complaint. For the moment, only United's mainline flights are included, but the company says it is working with its regional partners to bring the same opportunities to passengers on United Express flights by the end of 2013. Customers will still be expected to turn off their devices should they be instructed to by flight staff.
Nov 5, 2013
American Airlines now allows personal electronics use throughout entire flight
American Airlines now allows passengers on its airplanes to use portable electronic devices throughout their entire flight. The Federal Aviation Administration has approved the use of electronics on the company's fleet "gate to gate," meaning fliers can leave laptops, phones, and tablets powered on when they enter the plane, and keep them on through landing and disembarkation.Read Article >
Nov 1, 2013
Delta and JetBlue become first airlines to allow electronics during takeoff and landing
Delta and JetBlue have become the first two US airlines to allow e-readers, tablets, and other electronic devices to be used throughout the flight. Following the FAA's recommendation that travelers be allowed to use gadgets from gate to gate, both companies indicated yesterday that they had put in applications for approval. The FAA has now officially said that their testing results, policy tweaks, and training changes are up to par. "As of 4:15 PM today, Delta officially received approval from the FAA for their plan to allow [personal electronic device] use from gate to gate, effective immediately," a Delta spokesperson tells The Verge.Read Article >
A photo from a JetBlue flight today (embedded below) also confirms the change. We've reached out to the FAA, JetBlue, and also American Airlines — which has indicated it will move quickly to adopt the new policies — for more details. On Twitter, a report from Runway Girl Network says that JetBlue has given passengers the go ahead to use their devices during takeoff and landing.
Oct 31, 2013
FAA officially approves using electronics during all phases of flight
The FAA is officially allowing the use of some electronics during takeoff and landing, not just while in the air. In a statement, the agency said it was immediately providing guidance to airlines that would let them integrate the new rules. Airlines will need to submit a plan to manage electronics use, including outlines for new flight attendant training, for the FAA's approval. And that approval could come quickly: Delta says it has already completed testing and submitted a plan. Pending the FAA's decision, it could be in place as early as tomorrow.Read Article >
What does this mean in the long run? The FAA has posted a set of frequently asked questions to its site, noting that not all airline fleets will be able to implement the regulations right away. Part of the planning phase includes making sure that planes can handle the radio interference signals from devices, as well as changing carry-on and stowing policies to differentiate between light devices like tablets and heavier ones like laptops, which could pose a physical danger in a bumpy takeoff. However, despite previous indications that the rules wouldn't go into effect until next year, the FAA now says we'll be seeing broad changes by the holidays. "The agency expects airlines to allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of 2013," it writes.
Sep 27, 2013
FAA panel formally recommends loosening in-flight electronics restrictions
Earlier this week, anonymous sources told The New York Times that a special United States Federal Aviation Administration panel would recommend to the agency that it loosen its restrictions on passengers using electronic devices during takeoff and landing. Now, according to the AP, that panel officially recommended to the FAA that it let airline passengers use their smartphones, e-readers, tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices essentially uninterrupted during flight. As reported earlier, electronic devices could be freely used as long as they were in airplane mode with Wi-Fi turned off during takeoff and landing — so no phone calls and no internet, but otherwise all of the restrictions that exist today would be eliminated.Read Article >
The 28-member committee agreed on the proposal today and plans to deliver its report to FAA officials early next week. From there, there's no telling if or when its recommendations will be implemented. As the AP notes, the FAA did create this committee and has several members on it, so they probably won't just ignore the recommendations wholesale. If the report is accepted, the changes could be in place by sometime in 2014 if the FAA works quickly — but another situation could see the approvals drag out for a year or longer. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a longtime advocate of dropping the FAA's restrictions, said she'll introduce legislation to force the FAA to move forward — "I will know it if I see that they're stalling," she said.
Sep 23, 2013
The FAA could loosen its in-flight electronics rules by next year
The US Federal Aviation Administration is set to loosen its rules on in-flight electronics, The New York Times reports. Members of a review panel, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, said they will recommend that the FAA allow "reading ebooks or other publications, listening to podcasts, and watching videos" during takeoff and landing, rather than banning all electronics use below 10,000 feet. That's a somewhat confusing way to describe the changes, but we've previously heard that the FAA will allow e-readers and tablets, so long as they've been switched into "airplane mode." While earlier reports said that cellphones would still need to be turned off entirely, but there's no mention of this here — just the predictable censure of Wi-Fi or cellular signals.Read Article >
According to the Times, the panel will present its recommendations by the end of September, and the changes should be made next year. If made, the reforms would reverse decades of policy regarding in-flight electronics. The FAA's current rules hold that any personal electronic devices, even in airplane mode, could cause radio interference at critical times. While some tablets have been tested and allowed as electronic flight bags, the agency fears that "on a given flight, there could be hundreds of different PEDs in many different states of function or repair giving off spurious signals."
Jul 26, 2013
Expanded TSA PreCheck program lets you breeze through airport security after an $85 background check
If you have $85 to spare and can pass a background check, you'll soon have the option to breeze through security checkpoints on domestic flights. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) revealed last week that it is planning to expand its PreCheck program later this year with an application process allowing all US citizens to seek entry to the program. It allows members to use expedited security checkpoints at 40 airports around the country, but the best part is that you don't have to take off your shoes, belt, or jacket, and you can leave your laptop and small liquid containers in your carry-on bag when passing through security checkpoints.Read Article >
To gain entry to the program, you'll need to pass a background check and then go for an in-person interview — first available only at Washington Dulles International Airport and Indianapolis International Airport — where you'll have your fingerprints taken. If the TSA determines that it has "a high confidence that you are not a terrorist," as TSA administrator John Pistole said last week, you'll receive a PreCheck known traveler number that you'll give to your air carrier when you book a flight. The $85 fee covers membership for five years, at which time you'll need to reapply. Only Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, and Virgin America are currently part of the program, and you won't automatically gain access to expedited security check lines every time you fly.
Jul 2, 2013
#Grenades and #travel: the TSA wins Instagram with its feed of confiscated items
Something explosive is happening on Instagram these days. No, not just the newly added support for 15-second videos. No, not the new White House Instagram account. All of those developments pale in comparison to the official new Instagram account for the US Transportation Security Administration. Late last week, the "TSAblogteam" account began publishing photos of dangerous items the agency confiscated from travelers at airports across the country. Already, it has amassed pictures of all sorts banned items, from fireworks to loaded guns to grenades, even knifeguns. Armed with a hefty supply of hashtags ("The perfect #knife to bring to a #gunfight") and displaying a savvy use of photo filters, the TSA's Instagram feed puts most other users to shame, let alone other government and organizations' accounts.Read Article >
The TSA's Instagram account came to our attention by way of Forbes contributor Grant Martin, who points out that the TSA is no stranger to social media, having launched its own blog featuring confiscated items back in 2008. It also maintains a number of Twitter accounts. But Instagram is a far more visual, and arguably visceral way of conveying just how many dangerous items would-be fliers attempt to bring aboard airplanes on a regular basis. For those whose items have been seized, it's also a reminder that the government clearly doesn't have a problem making a public example of those who disobey the rules.
Jun 21, 2013
FAA ready to ease restrictions on in-flight gadgets, WSJ reports
The Federal Aviation Administration is preparing to loosen current restrictions on the use of personal electronics on planes, more than year after the agency announced plans to reconsider its gadget ban. According to the Wall Street Journal, a 28-member advisory panel will recommend that the FAA relax its restrictions during taxiing, takeoff, and landing, as part of an investigation launched last August. Under current regulations — which have remained unchanged since 1966 — airlines ban the use of all devices until planes reach an altitude of 10,000 feet.Read Article >
The panel's draft has yet to be finalized, and details are still under debate, but the report makes clear that existing regulations "have become untenable." If the FAA agrees to implement the recommended changes, passengers would have greater freedom to use gadgets after a plane's cabin doors have closed. Some, including e-readers, would be allowed for use throughout the duration of a flight. A formal decision on the matter isn't expected until the panel submits a final version of its recommendations at the end of September.
Jun 5, 2013
TSA drops plans to allow small knives on planes
Americans who fear harm from small folding knives, sports equipment, or novelty bats while flying can rest easy. The Associated Press reports that Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole has dropped plans to relax airplane security restrictions, allowing non-locking blades no longer than 2.36 inches and sports equipment like golf clubs. The TSA first announced the new policy in March, but it faced a swift backlash from flight attendants, politicians, and others, who worried that the changes would make terrorist attacks or hijackings easier. The TSA then delayed the change, which quickly slipped past its initial April 25th start date.Read Article >
"After getting the input from all these different constituents, I realized there was not across-the-board support that would serve us well in moving forward," Pistole said in an interview. By scrapping the plans, the TSA plans to conserve its political capital for other fights, including expanding a pre-check program that would allow passengers to board more quickly if they had already passed a security screening.
Apr 23, 2013
Controversial knives-on-planes policy delayed by TSA
Thursday was meant to be the day that the TSA started allowing passengers to bring small knives on board airplanes, but the controversial policy has suffered a setback. Today the agency said that it is delaying the introduction of the rules in order to assess feedback from the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, which includes law enforcement, consumer, and aviation industry representatives. The decision to delay appears to have been sudden; no new date was set for the policy's debut, and on Wednesday a TSA spokesperson told the LA Times that the rollout would be unaffected by the Boston bombings.Read Article >
Last month's announcement of the policy sparked criticism from several quarters; the Flight Attendants Union Coalition called the new rules "poor and shortsighted," Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said they were "baffling," and many highlighted the apparent disconnect between allowing knives on board while banning innocuous bottles of liquid. TSA head John Pistole said the change would free up time for the agency to investigate more serious threats.
Apr 21, 2013
Now is your chance to tell the TSA what you think of 'nude' full-body scanners
After being ordered by a DC circuit court to hold public rulemaking hearings for its Whole Body Imaging scanners more than a year ago, the TSA has finally opened the screening policy for public comment. As of today, the TSA has received more than 600 public comments, and online comments will be accepted through June 24th at 11:59 PM ET — you can file your own comments on the government's Regulations.gov website.Read Article >
The TSA's full-body scanners have received a critical eye from privacy advocates and the general public; the scanners are said to be an invasion of personal privacy, and ineffective as a security measure to boot. The scanners create images of the front and rear of a person's body, with concealed objects highlighted in black against white skin. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), along with other privacy and civil rights groups, filed a petition with the Department of Homeland Security in 2010, demanding that the TSA conduct "notice-and-comment rulemaking," which it failed to do before deploying the Whole Body Imaging scanners at airports.