FINALLY: China Is Lifting Their Ban On Using Smartphones In-Flight

Filed Under: Travel

As I’ve written about in the past, one of the most annoying aviation policies (at least as a passenger) is that you’re not allowed to use smartphones or tablets on Chinese airlines, whether you’re on the ground and the door is open, or you’re in the air. Yes, you can’t use your smartphone or tablet even in airplane mode. It’s a ridiculous policy, especially given that some Chinese airlines have wifi nowadays. So you’re okay using the wifi on a laptop, but not on another device.

I remember the first time I experienced this — I figured I was misunderstanding the flight attendant, and explained that my phone was in airplane mode (I figured that was the issue). The flight attendant explained it needed to be off completely, and for the entire flight. So you can’t use your iPhone to take pictures, play games, listen to music, connect to wifi, etc.

It’s my understanding that this is a way outdated policy, and that back in the day their concern was that people wouldn’t keep their phone in airplane mode, etc. I guess here in the US we don’t have that much room to judge, since up until a few years ago phones had to be completely off for takeoff and landing, while now they’re okay with airplane mode. I guess China’s policy up until now had similar logic, but it just applied to the entire flight.

A Xiamen Air flight attendant with a sign telling people to turn off smartphones & tablets

Anyway, there’s some GREAT NEWS on this front. The South China Morning Post reports that China’s Civil Aviation Administration is revising their aviation regulations, and soon it will be up to airlines to decide if they want to allow the use of smartphones and tablets in-flight. I can’t imagine airlines wouldn’t want to allow passengers to use them, so this should hopefully lead to smartphones and tablets being usable in the cabins of Chinese airliners again soon. The change won’t happen overnight, but hopefully it happens within weeks and not years.

This is really fantastic news. For my trip reports I always like to jot things down in the “Notes” app on my phone during the flight so I can remember everything about the service, and I’m not even allowed to do that on Chinese airlines. Hopefully that changes soon.

(Tip of the hat to @Airvuz_Dom and @davidcsutton)

  1. Just flew China Eastern today and got scolded by a FA. Then I had to sneak using my cell phone in flight in addition to my VPN to access social media 😉 I’m a bad boy 😉

  2. In your first paragraph, you states that currently tablets and smartphones are not allowed to use on Chinese airlines, which is incorrect. Actually, tablets in airplane mode are allowed on Chinese carriers.

    China Eastern and Hainan have already started the process of validating the use of smartphones in the plane (as required by the new regulation) and a LCC in China, Spring Airlines has claimed that the smartphone ban should be completely lifted early next year.

  3. I researched on this topic a while ago and found out that the main reason CAAC don’t allow phone to be switched on during the flight even in flight mode is that many Knock-off brands in China’s Airplane Mode is not a proper Airplane mode that you will found on other major brand.

  4. I’m pretty sure tablets were never banned, just phones. Which made it even more ludicrous seeing as they’re basically just big mobile phones. I used an iPad to watch films on air China back in 2015 and they never said anything to me but I saw them telling people about phones quite often

  5. The new whole policy (including the new rules regarding the electronic devices onboard) can be executed as early as Oct 1st, 2017 and the not later than Dec 31st, 2019.

  6. Great news. This policy has/had been a significant factor in me avoiding mainland Chinese carriers for medium/long haul flights. Can be OK when the flight is 1-2 hours, but not being able to use one’s phone to listen to music/podcasts, take photos, etc. is very annoying when you know that many major carriers let you use your phone gate to gate. As others have said, banning mobiles while permitting tablets didn’t make much sense.

    The sooner this becomes reality the better.

  7. the brain is quite plastic (neuroplasticity) and folks diddling with phones, etc…was akin to electronic cocaine. There’s a myriad of research studies that suggest constant america-style phone diddling caused irrepairable brain damage. A ban on this ‘cancer’ of american culture would be most welcome.

  8. If you have seen how the Chinese use their smartphones in the Louvre, you wouldn’t be celebrating… Let the selfie stick fencing begin! Lol

  9. “Yes, you can’t use your smartphone or tablet even in airplane mode.”

    It’s slightly misleading. Firstly, tablets in airplane mode are not banned. Secondly, ALL phones are banned, including dumbphones.

  10. This is actually going to be very bad for fellow passengers. Having lived in China many years. People will be watching movies with no headphones and constantly talking on WeChat. Be prepared for no sleep and constant noise on transpacific flights

  11. Tablets and laptops can be used in flight mode during the flight but have to be switched off during take off and landing. Smartphones have to be turned off during the whole flight. But with wifi in all new planes of China Eastern (that I fly most of the time) and most Chinese don’t have a tablet of laptop with them, we are hoping for a policy change. Last Saturday China Eastern still did not allow to use flight mode for the smartphone.

  12. I can’t believe that I am still reading this stuff….when are these sad pathetic juveniles finally going to get a life?

  13. This will really suck. People will watch movies/tv without earbuds and speak on “shout mode” on their phones like they do on the trains here. No way to read or sleep in peace anymore.

  14. In my flight last week I was seated behind this military guy, he did not have his phone on air plane mode throughout the whole flight and he been using his phone through the whole flight time. We were in one of those regional jets by Sky west, so the seats are close enough to be able to see his phone not in air plane mode. i wasn’t happy to know that he didn’t turn his phone on air plane mode. The lady beside him asked him a lot of questions about his base, his post etc, so I know he’s heading back to the airbase in Meridian MS, he’s a pilot and he boasting he flown many times to her, he’s also an officer in training. So military trained officer pilot doesn’t follow the instructions to turn phone to air plane mode but non military have to follow that rule? I don’t buy that.

  15. Just flew China Eastern Yesterday and we were told that all phones had to be powered down, even if they were on airplane mode. Laptops and tablets were allowed but wifi had to turned off.
    Flight attendants told a number of people to keep their phones off during the flight.

  16. Thanks for the update, Ken! We are flying China Eastern tomorrow and it’s helpful to know the current status.

  17. I am boarding Xiamen airlines this sat, the would not let you use phones sadly, but laptops and tablets are allowed.

  18. I just flew Shanghai Airline today and was told to switch off my phone which was already on airplane mode. The announcement before landing reminded the passengers to keep their phones off until the seat belt sign is off. However, the moment the plane touched the ground, all the Chinese passengers switched on their phones including the fat jerk sitting next to me who was preaching to me without invitation earlier that there are regulations in China. I feel sorry for the entire aviation industry in China which insists on upholding this outdated policy in an ignorant “black is white” manner while treating flight delays as super normal!!! Also, the Chinese jerk who preached about the so-called regulation ended up breaking it on the spot is a complete idiot!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *