Airplane Mode for Electronics on Flights: Is This Really Necessary?

Urban myth or real safety concern? Do cell phones and iPads really cause interference with electronic systems on airplanes?

According to a  September 2013 report from the Aviation Rulemaking Committee to the Federal Aviation Administration, “FCC rules, with a few notable exceptions, do not prohibit use of radio transmitters or consumer electronics aboard airplanes.” The decision to allow PEDs (portable electronic devices) during any phase of flight belongs to the operator of each aircraft. The report states that carriers have been reluctant to change their policies because little research has been done to determine the safety of PED use during critical phases of flight.

The most ardent concern seems to be during takeoff and landing. Pilots have reported blips and interference with radio traffic when cellphones and other electronic devices are being used especially below 10,000 feet. Pilots fear confusion or miscommunication will occur without clear, interrupted radio communication.

Some European carriers are allowing in-flight cellphone use. Cellphone use during flights may become the norm as new technologies are developed and implemented. Picocells are being used in some aircraft, which relay in-cabin signals to ground cell towers. This reduces the risk of interference with cellphones and other radio traffic.

Additionally, the Denver Post reported of a 2013 review by the FAA of cell phone use during flights, “a substantial majority of individual commenters expressed opposition to voice calls on the grounds that they are disturbing, particularly in the confined space of an aircraft cabin.”

To summarize: While you are struggling to get comfortable in the middle row seat you purchased because you didn’t want to pay $50+ to upgrade to window or aisle, cram your teeny-tiny bag under the seat in front of you, resist adding a laxative to the kids’ KoolAid who is kicking the back of your seat, and eat the squashed peanut butter sandwich and bruised apple you packed to keep from starving on a four-hour flight, do you then want to add tolerating “chatty Kathy” in the seat next to you reviewing her last night’s escapades or “Oscar the Grump” complaining about his neighbor’s tacky lawn?

I didn’t think so.


Conde Nast: Here’s Why You Have to Switch Your Phone to Airplane Mode On a Flight

Travel+Leisure: What Really Happens When You Don’t Turn Off Your Cell Phone on a Plane?

Denver Post: Cellphone Calls During Flights? DOT Thinks it Might Be OK



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