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July 26, 2013

Quit Whining and Turn Off Your Digital Devices on Airplanes

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

Do you always turn off your personal electronic devices on airplanes? If you’re like one-third of people who fly, you don’t – either because you can’t be bothered or because you doubt that these devices really interfere with flight systems.

It doesn’t actually matter whether you believe they do or don’t interfere with an airplane’s systems: it’s a felony not to comply with instructions from an airplane’s flight crew, so maintaining that the device isn’t hurting anything won’t save you from fines or arrests.


Image via Shutterstock

In any case, there is some evidence that devices with transmission capabilities such as mobile phones and tablets do interfere with some systems. Even on devices that don’t transmit, they emit electromagnetic waves (putting them in “airplane mode” simply won’t cut it), which also have the potential to interfere, according to a 2011 article in the New York Times by aviation columnist Christine Negroni. 

“Since 2000, there have been at least 10 voluntary reports filed by pilots in the United States with the Aviation Safety Reporting System, administered by NASA,” wrote Negroni. “In 2007, one pilot recounted an instance when the navigational equipment on his Boeing (News - Alert) 737 had failed after takeoff. A flight attendant told a passenger to turn off a hand-held GPS device and the problem on the flight deck went away.”

The New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission believes, though it has no direct evidence, that a charter flight that crashed in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2003 was the result of a navigation systems problem caused by interference from the pilot’s own cell phone use. Eight people died in that crash, including the pilot. According to a recent Phys.org article, there have been about 75 events reported over the past seven years that have been attributed to interferences from cell phones or other electronic devices.

So why are you allowed to use the devices above 10,000 feet but not below? It’s a simple matter of timing: above 10,000 feet, the pilots have time to correct any problems caused by interference from a digital signal. Below that level, seconds count, and if a navigation systems goes on the fritz that close to the ground, seconds lost could be catastrophic.

So turn off your damn cell phone, tablet, MP3 player, gaming device or whatever it is you’ve got when the flight crew tells you to. Nobody’s that important they can’t be without it for a few minutes. That includes you.




Edited by Alisen Downey
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