Flights: Pilot reveals real reason your mobile phone needs to be off or in flight mode

Flights can be fairly baffling to many plane passengers as there’s a lot going on that people don’t understand. Particularly confusing can be some of the rules that fliers are supposed to follow. While some travel advice makes obvious sense, others leave travellers scratching their heads.

“Can cellular communication really disrupt cockpit equipment? The answer is potentially yes, but in all likelihood no,” wrote Smith.

“Even if it’s not actively engaged with a call, a powered phone dispatches bursts of energy that can, in theory, interfere with a plane’s electronics.

“Aircraft are designed and shielded with this interference in mind, however, and this should mitigate any ill effects.

“For years, airlines and regulators had been erring on the zero-tolerance, better-safe-than-sorry side.


“Each time we flew, the never-tedious safety briefing would frighten us into making sure our phones were in the proverbial off position prior to taxiing.

“Things have changed. In the United States, the FAA still restricts phones to airplane mode, but in-flight texting and calling, via Wi-Fi, are freely permitted.

“Elsewhere there’s confidence that more than thirty airlines, including Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Aeroflot, and Alitalia, now allow inflight calling.

“When aloft, calls are routed through something called a ‘picocell,’ a miniature onboard base station.

“Picocells depower the energy your phone emits before relaying the signal either via satellite or to specially configured ground towers.”

Smith goes on to point out that clamping down on phones has other benefits.

“Where call bans exist, it’s possible that worries over safety are being used as a convenient means of avoiding the bigger issue here – that is, the social ramifications of allowing calls from planes,” the pilot said.

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“Once a call ban is lifted, you’re pitting one angry group of travellers against each other, with carriers stuck in the middle.

“If indeed this is the game being played, count me among those who hope the prohibition stays in place – not out of technical concerns, but for the sake of some bloody peace and quiet.

“The sensory bombardment inside airports is overwhelming enough. The airplane cabin is a last refuge of relative silence (so long as there isn’t a baby wailing). Let’s keep it that way.”

What of the other onboard rules? In his book, Smith also explains why tray tables need to be up for takeoff and landing.

“Your tray has to be latched so that, in the event of an impact or sudden deceleration, you don’t impale yourself on it,” he wrote. “Plus it allows a clear path to the aisle during an evacuation.”


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