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United begins offering expanded electronic use on flights

Erin Mulvane, Houston Chronicle
Published 1:27 pm, Thursday, November 7, 2013
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United Airlines announced it will now allow the use of electronics during takeoff and landings on its domestic flights, following a new policy announced by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA announced last week that airlines would be not be restricted from allowing their customers to use their portable electronic devices during all phases of the flight. Both Chicago-based United and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines said they planned to take advantage as soon as possible.

United announced this week it is offering "electronic friendly cabins" in which customers can user lightweight, hand-held electronic devices, such as tablets, e-readers and smartphones, from gate-to-gate.

Larger electronic devices, such as laptops, must be secured in an overheard bin or another approved storage area during takeoff and landing. Passengers may still be asked to turn off their electronic devices in certain situations, such as low-visibility operations.

Voice calls from cell phones are still prohibited during all phases of flight, from takeoff to landing.

The change extends to the United customers traveling on mainline flights within the U.S. The airline is working with its regional partners to extend the benefits and hopes to allow gate-to-gate access across all United Express flights by the end of the year, the company said in a statement.

"I want to thank the FAA and Administrator (Michael) Huerta for working with us so quickly to offer this great benefit to our customers," Jim Compton, vice chairman and chief revenue officer at United, said in a statement. "Safely expanding the use of portable electronic devices is one of the many ways United is working to deliver a more user-friendly travel experience for our customers."

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has not yet begun offering the benefit, said airline spokesman Brad Hawkins. He said the airline is close to completing all the necessary steps

"We're working hard and fast to answer the long-held request with a product that no one else can touch," Hawkins said, noting that Southwest recently added WiFi technology on its airplanes.