Turning Off Electronics on the Airplane

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Jeff Block
Turning Off Electronics on the Airplane

I travel a lot for business, and the other day on the plane, a fellow passanger asked me a question I couldn't answer, so I thought I'd ask you (all)...

Why do airlines make us turn off our electronics when the plane is taking off and landing? Seems to be two levels as well... 1) no cellular signals for the whole flight, and 2) nothing wtih an on/off switch can be on during takeoff and landing.

What's the deal?

Ross Johnson
They claim it's for reasons

They claim it's for reasons of "electronic interference" with the plane's navigational equipment. I, for one, don't buy it, and every time I switch my phone off I do so with a grumble of dissent. As far as I know, there has never been a single problem attributed to inteference from a personal electronic device during an airline flight. The idea that "it's better to be safe than sorry" seems to apply here, but I think that's only being said by people who don't much care to explore probabilities.

I'm glad that cell phones are

I'm glad that cell phones are prohibited during flight - I don't think I could handle the general noise and annoyance of listening to everyone else's conversations on a flight. On a recent trip when I was waiting to get off of the airplane, I heard a man on the phone say, "Don't tell anyone I told you this, but..."

But as for other electronics, like mp3 players, I think they could be a bit more lenient. But then how do you make people listen to the safety announcements?

Steven Jones (not verified)
I think they should teach

I think they should teach kids the standard airplane safety speech/ritual in school when they are young so it gets burned in early. They could practice it right after the pledge of allegiance.

Then we could skip the whole thing when the flight starts and yak longer (and louder) on our cell phones.

Eric Daugherty (not verified)
I have heard rumors that they

I have heard rumors that they are looking to change this, and even allow cell phones on the planes (they would put a micro cell in the plane and then relay the calls).

Not sure if this was urban legand or I read it someplace legit, but I do recall an article or something about it.

Recently the FCC agreed to

Recently the FCC agreed to license spectrum to allow airlines/providers to relay broadband between planes and ground networks. There's an article here: FCC Considers Airline Broadband Connections.

That same article says the FCC is also "opening another proceeding to seek public comment on airborne cell phone use."

Matt Whitlock (not verified)
I have to say that I'm

I have to say that I'm against cell-phone use on airplanes. Not because I really think they'll be a safety issue, but out of courtesy for others on the plane. The last thing I want to hear is 6 teenagers on the phone saying, "Like, no way!", and other irritating sayings. I could see exceptions for flights longer than a certain number of hours (oversea, etc.), but I think everyone can refrain from their cell phone for a few hours on domestic flights.

However, broadband on a plane is a fabulous idea! With a Slingbox, I could watch my local TV stations in flight!

Eric Daugherty (not verified)
Thanks Jace, glad to know I'm

Thanks Jace, glad to know I'm not totally crazy. :)

Jeff Block
Hmmm... Have been away, so

Hmmm... Have been away, so haven't been too active in following-up with this thread. Interesting discussion, but I don't think I have an answer to the original question...

Any other thoughts?

Matt Whitlock (not verified)
I think Ross did a good job

I think Ross did a good job of explaining. They are afraid that interference from certain devices will cause problems with certain electronic systems on the aircraft. While there has never been a report of this occuring, the airlines position is, "It's better to be safe than sorry."

The airlines have been more lenient in recent years regarding the use of devices during flight, they are still very strict about takeoffs and landings because that's when the slightest intereference in a system at the wrong moment could wind up killing everyone on board.

I don't want to get killed just because someone absolutely needed to sync their PDA with a laptop before the wheels touch the ground. Though I'll also admit that it would probably never happen, there is always a chance, which is why they're still strict about it. I forsee the airlines loosening up on electronics that don't transmit anything, but cellular phones, Laptops (Wi-Fi), and newer gaming systems to remain a no-no during takeoff and landing.

Ross Johnson
Funnily enough, just moments

Funnily enough, just moments ago, I read this in the Economist:

Mobile phones do not make planes crash: on a typical transatlantic flight, there are a dozen or so left on by mistake. When was the last time someone tried to hijack a plane by threatening to turn on a phone? Their use in the air is banned because it would interfere with mobile networks on the ground, though this has now been solved, and in-flight calling will be possible next year. What of explosions at petrol stations? These are mostly caused by static electricity; the ban on phones was introduced by overcautious oil firms in the 1980s, despite the lack of any evidence of danger. With the industry unwilling to withdraw its warning signs, the myth of phone-related explosions has taken on a life of its own (see article). There is no credible evidence for a link between mobile phones and cancer. It is true that terrorists use mobile phones. But they also use electricity and cars. Why single out phones?

And Matt, you take chances with your life all the time - every time you cross the street or get in a car or even use your stove. We ought not make rules based on "a chance," whatever that means. We shouldn't be talking about what's possible - too many things are possible to consider them all - we should talk about what's probable, and electronics crashing planes doesn't seem to fall into that category.

Matt Whitlock (not verified)
I didn't say I agreed with

I didn't say I agreed with the airlines. I admitted that it's highly unlikely. However, if I cross the street and get hit by a car it's my fault, but if someone crashes my plane because of their PSP it isn't.

Don't get me wrong, I want less restrictions using my gadgets on planes, but I still think that in-flight cell use should continue to be prohibited. Not because a "chance" that the plane will go down (there's already a chance it will anyway), but because I don't want to hear 40 phone conversations going on at the same time. I think we can all put down our phones for a few hours when flying... can't we?

Ross Johnson
I agree about cell phone

I agree about cell phone chatter, but...

The argument of crossing the street doesn't hold water. First of all, if you're obeying the laws, crossing at the crosswalk and with the proper signal and you still get killed by a drunk driver, it's not your fault any more than it's your fault for getting on a plane that crashes due to a freak occurrence.

Matt Whitlock (not verified)
In the example it would be my

In the example it would be my fault for not looking both ways before crossing. At lease in the example I had some control over my own destiny... unless the drunk driver runs off the road and hits me on the curb.

There's always circumstances Ross, but the crossing the street example holds up under most conditions. I just think you like arguing with me. :-)

Ross Johnson
I do, I do... but that's

I do, I do... but that's because you're making it fun and easy... :)

In both cases, you had the choice to engage in very slightly risky behavior. I'm not talking about a case where you are at fault when crossing the street, I'm talking about someone else being at fault, say because their brakes gave out. It's exactly the same situation as a plane crashing for reasons that you had nothing to do with. In both cases, your odds of dying are exceedingly slim but you could die in either one through no fault of your own other than the original choice to embark upon a certain low-risk course of action. People die this way all the time, and we shouldn't make up rules that worry about these rarest of cases - we've got enough frivolous legislation in this country as it is.

Actually I just realized that my example isn't quite right because in the case of someone's brakes giving out, we probably would give some retribution to that person if they hit and killed a pedestrian, especially if you could demonstrate that they were negligent in the maintenance of their vehicle. So existing laws adequately cover this one.

To make it a more appropriate analogy, it would have to be something much more outlandish and rare - like you were attacked and killed by Bigfoot while crossing the street. It's never happened to anyone before, just as no one has ever died from someone using portable electronics on a plane, but we're not going to outlaw crosswalks on the offchance Sasquatch shows up in midtown Manhattan.

Jeff Block
Now this is entertainment.

Now this is entertainment. Where's my popcorn!?

Matt Whitlock (not verified)
I'm seeing a Matt vs. Ross

I'm seeing a Matt vs. Ross thread sometime in the near future. We can pick arbitrary things with no answer to argue about. Ross, we could be like Seinfeld... a whole thread about nothing!

Ross Johnson
That's really my favorite

That's really my favorite form of discussion. :)


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