An increasing number of Chinese airlines are allowing the use of smartphones and other devices during flights, after China's top civil aviation regulator left airlines to make their own decisions regarding onboard portable electronic device services.
The moves could help carriers attract more passengers and generate new sources of revenue such as internet services and e-commerce sales, as the country's fast-expanding network of high-speed rail lines increasingly squeezes airlines' customer base, according to experts and media reports.
On Thursday, China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines announced that they would allow passengers to use smartphones and other devices during flights starting Friday.
Spring Airlines also announced Thursday that it will permit device usage under the condition that passengers switch to airplane mode, but it will start the practice on February 1, ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Two other major Chinese airlines, Hainan Airlines and China Eastern Airlines, began allowing device use on Thursday. The two airlines also offered Wi-Fi services, but only under the condition that devices were switched to airplane mode.
The announcements came after a guideline from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, released on Tuesday, stated that individual airlines can decide whether to permit device usage on their flights.
The guideline said that cabin crew have the right to tell passengers to turn off their devices if suspected interference is detected.
"The new guideline are of great significance, because China has always given safety top priority. The decision shows the improvement of China's safety management skills," Li Xiaojin, a professor at the Tianjin-based Civil Aviation University of China, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Li said the move to allow devices on board is a reaction to the expansion of high-speed rail services. Allowing passengers to use devices while in flight could help airlines in the competition.
"The new rules will of course generate a huge market. Take for example in-flight shopping. Just imagine shopping online in the air, with your items waiting for you on arrival," Li noted.
The new rules could bring profits for retailers, equipment producers and advertisers, the China Securities Journal said in a report on Thursday.
According to a joint research conducted by British telecom company Inmarsat and the London School of Economics, by 2035, planes with in-flight internet services will be operating all over the world, creating a new market worth billion.
Li said that more airlines will allow devices in the future and services would be improved.
And services do need to be improved, according to media reports.
Some passengers who were on China Eastern's first flight from Shanghai to Beijing on Thursday with Wi-Fi services were quick to complain about how slow the service was, saying they had to fight for connections, according to news website thepaper.cn on Thursday.