Chinese civil aviation regulations forbid the use of mobile phones inflight – even in airplane mode – but they do not forbid the use of tablets.
I know this but out of habit had my phone out and was scolded for it by a flight attendant on China Eastern last year. I was perplexed for a moment, trying to explain that the phone was in airplane mode. She didn’t understand, and then I remembered. I guess I got lucky, of course I was flying to Colombo (on a flight that continued to Kunming, but I was getting off before reaching China).
Last year Air China suspended a pilot who broadcasted his duties on social media because he violated the ban on inflight cell phone use.
In a single month earlier this year three passengers were jailed for their cell phone use on Chinese domestic flights. One was listening to music on their phone during takeoff and landing. Another passenger tried to make calls during their flight. And the third refused to turn off their phone when asked by a flight attendant.
China’s aviation authority will relax its rules on using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets during flights, allowing individual airlines to decide on their own rules.
Each airline will still have to submit their plan to the government for approval, but there’s a process for doing that under new rules. There’s not yet a timeframe for when airlines will allow inflight use of small mobile devices, and airlines aren’t being required to allow it, but it’s expected that most will.