The Real Reason You’re Required to Turn Off Your Cell Phone on a Flight

Woman on Airplane Using a Smartphone Credit: Eo naya / Shutterstock
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Frequent flyers know the routine. They settle into their plane seats and send off that last text message to a co-worker or loved one before they turn off their phone. People do it, but many don’t understand why everyone turns off their phone before taking a flight. The reason behind this standard operating procedure may surprise you.

Electronics Interference?

Ask most airline passengers why they turn off their phones, and most of them will say the same thing. You need to turn off your mobile phone to prevent interference with the plane’s avionics equipment. Though that reason sounds plausible, it’s not entirely true, at least not anymore.

FAA Safety Ban

The FAA limits phone usage because it recognizes that mobile phones are a potential source of interference. Though the agency cites interference as the reason for its ban, there are no documented cases of interference, according to a 2012 FAA study.

Following this study, the FAA loosened some of its restrictions in 2013 allowing passengers to use their phones in Airplane Mode. Airplane Mode turns off the phone’s cellular connection so it is not trying to connect to ground towers. It does let you turn on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth so smartphone owners can connect earbuds or AirDrop information to and from devices.

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FCC Legacy Ban

The FCC’s mobile phone ban was instituted 20 years ago to prevent radio interference. Just like the FAA, the FCC was concerned about interference from the cell phone signals that were being sent to the ground-based cellular networks. Twenty years ago this may have been a major issue, but technology has improved.

Now, most airplane instrumentation is shielded from interference, according to aviation safety professional Allison Markey who spoke to Travel and Leisure. The reasons behind this ban are obsolete, but the FCC has not relaxed its rules…

The Real Reason for the Ban

If the FCC and the FAA remove the ban on cell phones, it will be up to the individual airlines to allow cell phones. Ever wonder why airlines aren’t pushing hard for this option? It has little to do with technology and everything to do with public opinion. Most airline passengers do not want full cell phone use on an airplane. Texting and emailing is OK, but talking is a big “No.”

Cell Phones and Violent Outbursts

Most people would be aggravated if the person next to them was speaking loudly on their phone. If cell phone usage was unrestricted, it’s assumed there would be an increase in conflicts between passengers.

People may be able to ignore the conversation for a while, but at some point, they are going to get fed up and complain.

Flight attendants would be required to intervene and defuse these situations, taking them away from their normal duties of helping passengers.

And all of that may not end with just some disgruntled commuters.

Airplane travel is stressful and people already may be on edge. Adding mobile phone conversations to the mix may create a powderkeg situation. You could see an explosion of airplane shouting matches and fistfights so violent that a plane may be forced to land in order to remove the unruly passengers.

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