Why Airlines Tell You To Switch Off Your Phones Before Takeoff

Will a phone's signal cause a plane to crash?

  • We've all been told to switch our phones to airplane or flight mode when we board a flight - or turn them off completely - but why? Most importantly, what happens if we don't?

    • Oprah wonders why too.

  • First, let's take a look at what airplane mode is and what it does

    • Airplane mode is a setting on cell phones, smartphones and other mobile devices that prevents the device from sending or receiving calls and text messages. Airplane mode is also known as offline mode, standalone mode and flight mode.

      Airplane mode varies from one device to another. For example, on an iPhone, airplane mode disables connectivity for cellular voice and data, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and location-based services.

    • Most devices will show you that you’re in Airplane Mode in some way. The Apple iOS shows a little airplane in the upper left corner and can be accessed in the Settings menu.

      If you try to use the Internet, it asks you to either take it out of Airplane Mode or get under Wi-Fi. Different devices and different services treat Airplane Mode differently. Some allow GPS and Bluetooth, while others do not

  • You see, it’s commonly believed that a device’s signal can interfere with a plane’s electrical and telecommunications systems. But experts have revealed the truth behind this popular belief.

    • In a blog post written by a pilot for the site AirlineUpdates, it's revealed that although phones can cause audible interference with the plane's radios, it's rare.

      “You’ve probably heard this interference yourself when a phone is set near a speaker. It sounds like a ’dit-dit-dit-dit’ tone and it’s pretty annoying," said the unnamed pilot.

  • It's so rare that if a plane makes 50 journeys, the interference would only occur twice and often this is due to cabin crew members' phones

    • However, if there are repeated interferences from phones it could cause the pilots to miss important radio calls from air traffic control. The pilot admitted that it has happened due to a cabin crew member consistently texting and making calls during a flight.

  • While most flights ban voice calls and in-flight text messages, some international airlines are introducing telecommunication base stations that operate at very low power and designed not to interfere with the crew's signals

    • Airplanes allowing in-flight cell phone use are equipped with picocells—basically a mini cell tower—that collects the signals from all the phones on board and beams it to a communications satellite in orbit, which then relays it to a base station on the ground to connect to a cell network.

      vice.com
  • With all that being said, we highly encourage everyone to follow instructions and turn on airplane mode. Hey, take it as a chance for you to take a break from your devices too!

    • It's also a good time to get some shut-eye or engage in a life-changing conversation with the person sitting next to you. ;)

  • Have you ever wondered why plane windows are round?

  • More interesting facts about airplanes:

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