May 26, 2014 7:15 pm
Updated: May 26, 2014 7:52 pm

How long before you can use your tablet during takeoff and landing?


Watch above: That warning from flight attendants to turn off your electronic devices before takeoff and landing will soon be a thing of the past. Shirlee Engel explains.

Airplanes have long remained one of the few places where you had to disconnect from the world, where there were restrictions on how and when you could use electronic devices.

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But for those who just want to finish an e-book or get past that tricky level of Candy Crush, you’ll no longer be hindered by the requirement to turn off electronics during take-off and landing, so long as the transmitters are turned off.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt’s announcement of the changes in Ottawa on Monday means Canada is catching up to the U.S., which changed its rules regarding electronic devices last October.

Raitt said Transport Canada had to review data itself before making any changes to regulations for portable electronic devices but informed airlines back in February a policy change was in the works.

“We’re all satisfied that from gate-to-gate, as long as you’re in airport mode, you can continue to use your BlackBerry, your iPhone, your [iPad], whatever it is,” she said in the foyer of the House of Commons Monday afternoon.

BELOW: Transportation minister Lisa Raitt explains the new guidelines regarding electronic device use on aircraft

It’s a welcome change for Canadian airlines such as WestJet, which hopes to have the new policy in place by early summer, according to the Calgary-based airline’s spokesperson Robert Palmer.

He said 80 per cent of the passengers aboard WestJet flights bring devices with them when they fly.

“From a passenger convenience perspective, this is good news,” he told Global News in a phone interview. “People are looking for the opportunity to remain connected and to be more productive, particularly the business traveller, when they’re in the air.”

He said the airline is going through the application process to get the permission to allow electronic device use on its flights. Once that’s granted, the company will have to update operating manuals and train flight attendants on the new operations.

“There’s going to be different devices. You’re going to have to make sure people are familiar with what airplane mode is on each of those devices,” Palmer explained.

Air Canada did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The announcement won’t mean you can use Wi-Fi on board just yet.

For the most part, Canadians will have to wait until they’re on the ground, and the seatbelt sign is off, before turning on their smartphones to check hours of missed text messages and tweets.

But that change could be on the horizon as well.

READ MORE: Q&A: Can a cell phone bring down an airplane?

Already some airlines, such as American Airlines and US Airways are offering paid Wi-Fi service on as many as 90 per cent of their flights.

Air Canada offers the same service on some flights to Los Angeles from Toronto or Montreal, but only over the United States.

WestJet said it plans to test on-board Wi-Fi technology later this year and seek approval from Transport Canada.

Raitt said in order for airlines to offer Wi-Fi, they need to prove that they can safely offer that service.

“Our priority is safety,” Raitt said. “We want to make sure the communications [aren’t] interrupted, between what’s happening on the flight deck and what’s happening on the ground.”

Distracted flying?

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board has not documented any Canadian airline incident being related to the use of electronic devices on board.

But there has been at least one in U.S. skies: A 2009 incident involving a Northwest Airlines plane flying more than 160 kilometres past its destination was attributed to the use of laptops on board.

It wasn’t the fault of a passengers’ device: The captain and first officer of Northwest Airlines Flight 188 admitted to the National Transportation Safety Board they had taken out their personal laptops in the cockpit and lost track of time.

© 2014 Shaw Media

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