The ban was driven by concerns that electronic devices could collectively interfere with aircraft systems / Vetta/Getty Creative

British Airways passengers will be the first to benefit from relaxed rules on gadgets inflight

"Doors to automatic - do not switch off your electronic devices": British Airways passengers from Heathrow to Barcelona, Istanbul and Madrid on Thursday, will be the first to benefit from relaxed rules on gadgets inflight.

Last week Europe's air-safety regulators said they would ease the rules on using handheld electronic devices such as e-readers and MP3 players. Until now, iPads, Kindles and laptops could be used only when the aircraft is above 10,000 feet - not during "critical" stages of the flight such as taxiing, take off, climb, descent and landing.

BA has become the first European airline to secure permission for passengers to use them "from the moment they board their flight to the second they leave it," according to the carrier. This is a slight exaggeration; everyone must put down their devices during the safety briefing.

Captain Ian Pringle, BA's flight training manager, said: "We know that our customers want to use their handheld electronic devices more, so this will be very welcome news for them. Easing of restrictions will provide an average of 30 minutes additional personal screen time. With around 300 people on a long-haul flight that will mean a combined total of approximately 150 hours extra viewing, reading or working."

The original ban was driven by concerns that multiple devices could collectively produce enough electromagnetic energy to interfere with aircraft systems. In October an American study concluded this theory was nonsense. Immediately the leading US airlines allowed passengers to use portable electronic devices from gate to gate.

There are concerns that passengers will be confused by the rule relaxation. It does not allow mobile phones to be used for calls and text messages, except on specially equipped aircraft. Phones must be in "flight-safe" mode or switched off altogether. The Civil Aviation Authority says: "Mobile phones can interfere with the normal operation of aircraft equipment and can also cause interference in pilot's headsets."

Anyone flying BA on Thursday but another European airline on Friday will experience two distinct regimes. Every carrier must seek permission from its national regulator, showing it has robust practices for making sure the relaxation can be achieved safely.

A spokesperson for easyJet said: "The airline is currently working through the recommendations and plans to make any required submissions in the New Year with a view to adopting the new changes as soon as it is feasible to do so."

Monarch is in no hurry, saying "At this point in time, there are no immediate plans to extend the usage of electronic devices. However, Monarch will review this policy pending the result of testing and customer feedback."

What do the new rules mean? See our online Q&A