General Question

wildpotato's avatar

Why don't airlines let us use Airplane Mode/Game Mode on our portable electronics?

Asked by wildpotato (13493 points ) October 9th, 2012

I mean, the whole purpose is so that we can use them without sending out wireless signals, right? That’s what Wiki says, anyway. So why, then, do pilots specify that Airplane Mode is not acceptable? Is it because FAA regulations haven’t caught up to technology, or do the signals still get out, or what?

Edit: I am talking about Southwest, but I thought I remembered United doing it too.

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20 Answers

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Please document by airlines which pilots will not allow “Airplane Mode”.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Um, they do allow it? What airline does not? They only don’t allow that during takeoff and landing, and that’s because they don’t permit any electronics during those times, regardless of wireless. They usually do say ” not airplane mode, all the way off” during those times, though, because of the amount of people that think that airplane mode somehow exempts them from this restriction, which it does not. But during level flight airplane mode is fine.

wildpotato's avatar

@BhacSsylan Yeah, but why isn’t it ok during takeoff and landing? I’d have thought that those are the only times when Airplane Mode would even be applicable, since they don’t seem to care about signals going out in midflight – at least, I don’t remember them caring back before Airplane Mode was around. Perhaps I misremember?

@Tropical_Willie I edited the Q.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m not sure there’s any evidence that cell phone signals interfere with anything in the plane. It might be theoretically possible, but as far as I know, it has never harmed a plane. And we know plenty of people have left phones on for the entirety of a flight.

El_Cadejo's avatar

The whole thing is retarded honestly. Leaving your phone on normal mode isn’t going to make the plane crash or anything like that. Its kinda like the whole no cell phone usage at the gas pump thing. It seems like a 1 in kagillion odds of something happening that has never actually happened before and yet there is a rule against it.

Edit: @wundayatta said it first :P

wildpotato's avatar

@wundayatta, @uberbatman True…I heard that it’s because the signals interfere with the plane’s ability to communicate with the tower, but that doesn’t make sense – couldn’t they just use restricted bandwidth? I admit my understanding of wireless signals is medieval, but I do know that planes communicate with different towers as they fly, so that should logically put the kibosh on using wireless devices in midflight, but it doesn’t… Imma confused potato.

So you guys think they do it just to torment us? I don’t buy it.

BhacSsylan's avatar

The electronics do send out weak signals. An entire plane full of electronic devices may well cause problems. It’s not an issue of ‘restricted wavelengths’, static is put out by the devices in a broad band, because it’s just white noise, not a directed signal. In flight this is less of an issue, because they have much less of an issue of running into something that high up, or losing their way since the airplane’s own electronics are pretty great. But when landing and taking off, the information is much, much more crucial and so they want to take no chances. Mid-air collisions are horrific.

Also, they still do restrict wireless devices in mid-flight, although this is changing (probably with better tech and shielding). WiFi is being used more, but cell-phone signals, which work on a different radio band (iirc), are still restricted during flight. You can turn on your phone’s wifi, but not your phone’s cell phone capabilities. I don’t know about stuff before airplane mode was around, but they do care now. You can’t have a phone on in normal mode during flight. Also, before airplane mode was around there were probably not enough cell phones around to be of consequence.

And yes, a single phone turned on will probably do nothing of consequences. But if everyone in the plane said ‘fuck it, it’s totally not a problem, I have to check my email!” you’re probably going to have an issue.

Also, I just took a flight a few weeks ago, so this is recent info.

Also also, as a guy who flies quite frequently (usually about 6–8 times a year), i can tell you it’s incredibly annoying to see someone fiddling on their phone during takeoff and landing. Seriously, it’s like 20 minutes. Turn the damn thing off.

BhacSsylan's avatar

For more specifics as to the FAA regulations, here’s an article about it that collects a few different articles. Overall the regulation boils down to ‘it may be a problem, we don’t want to take the risk”. Are they being overly cautious? Quite possibly. However, since turing a phone off for 20 minutes is hardly a great injustice, and cell phones’ normal function is typically useless mid-flight anyway, I maintain it’s best to listen to the people trying to keep things safe.

CWOTUS's avatar

I suspect that the real reason isn’t “the airlines”, but their strict monitoring of FAA regulations that will get them in trouble if they do not monitor as strictly as they do. Some airlines and crews are just better at monitoring and enforcement than others.

There is no danger to aircraft from commercially available and normally used “portable electronic devices”, but I suspect that a nagging worry in the heads of all FAA regulators (and a large number of airline executives, pilots and savvy flight crew members) is that “some portable electronic devices” may not be “commercially available and normally used”, if you get my drift.

And if someone had malicious intent to interfere with an aircraft, then takeoffs and landings are the critical points, because it’s where the plane is close to the ground, usually with either full tanks or empty (which can actually be more dangerous because of the risk of explosive fumes), and there is no time to recover from flight problems.

LuckyGuy's avatar

How would the flight attendant verify if your device was really in Airplane Mode? Do you expect them to check everybody. It is much easier and more efficient to just ban all electronics for the few minutes involved during takeoff or landing.
Seriously, is it too much to ask people to put away thier devices during that short time? Use the time to sit quietly, read, think, nap, or even – dare I say it – talk quietly to the person next to you.

blueiiznh's avatar

It is all about measuring risks.
Yes, the devices have been connected to causing suspect issues (I will post later).
The FAA is making sure that they weigh the risk.
I personally would rather turn it off than be part of a discussion by people who lost a loved one due to some issue.
The same people consider it an inconvenience as those that get angered because the will be late/delayed due to bad weather groundings.
Seriously, think about it, people gave up red M&M’s for years over red dye #2.

gasman's avatar

FAA to study ban on personal electronics during takeoff, landing
Aug 28, 2012 – L.A. Times

NEW YORK — The Federal Aviation Administration may rethink its puzzling ban on using smartphones, e-readers and computers during takeoff and landing.

It’s unclear whether the federal agency no longer sees the Kindle or iPad as a risk to modern jetliners as they ascend or descend but not when they reach cruising altitude.
——-
@wildpotato I think on every flight in the U.S., a flight attendant announces when it is “safe to use approved electronic devices,” usually above 10,000 feet. I routinely listen to music with my iPhone in “airplane mode.”

geeky_mama's avatar

GA @BhacSsylan – and I so agree with you. I fly nearly weekly and am always annoyed that there is nearly always some a-hole who thinks they’re so important they can’t put their phone away when the attendants announce that the boarding door has been closed and we’re pushing back for take-off. (Which is when devices must be turned off – they can be used again in airplane mode from 10,000 ft.)

For me, it’s about following the rules. You are required by Federal Aviation laws to comply with all flight attendant directions and posted placards. When they tell me the boarding door is closed I do as I’m told and shut off the phone/Kindle/computer immediately after putting it in a non-transmitting mode.

I can also tell you of about 6 flights this past year where I sat within close proximity to a pilot (deadheading) that not only did not turn their phone off but in at least a few of the cases I recall they were busy texting (not in airplane mode or using the Gogo inflight wireless) during take off and the entire flight…so some of the worst offenders are airline employees themselves.

jerv's avatar

This is the same government that continues to push “trickle down” economics, and the same industry that strip-searches small children.

If you want it to make sense, you must be a special kind of naive.

wundayatta's avatar

If the pilots do it, they must not believe it makes a difference. Or they believe they are the only ones doing it on the plane.

JLeslie's avatar

My guess is the most likely time to crash is take off and landing, so for safety reasons passengers are not supposed to be very distracted. Furthermore if there is some interference with the plane instruments (probably very unlikely) then airplane mode cannot be allowed, because how do they really know what mode you are in? I still think it is just a basic safety precaution like having your seat belt on and the window shade open.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Here… Let’s try an experiment. Find that old AM radio you have lying in a drawer since you got your MP3 player 8 years ago. Turn it on – after replacing the dead batteries – and set it between stations so all you hear is mild static. Now turn off your device and put it near the radio. Now turn it on. Listen to all the new static and tones. Move it around, put it near the display. Listen to the hot spots. You are radiating a few microwatts of junk. If a nefarious person wanted to, your little device can be made to radiate 1 or 2 watts (1 million times more) in the same size package. Look at FRS radios.
There is no government plot to deprive you of playing Angry Birds for 10 minutes. Be an adult and just turn them off as requested and don’t be a PIA.

wildpotato's avatar

Thanks y’all. Both sides of the debate make more sense now.

Regarding people who won’t turn them off – agreed, it’s obnoxious because there’s a presumption of superiority on the part of the guy who keeps his phone on. Especially if it’s a pilot (@geeky_mama Wow)! And, generally speaking it shouldn’t be a big deal to lay off the electronics for a few minutes.

But I don’t think it’s fair to assume too much about peoples’ motivations for keeping them on – maybe they desperately need some function of the device at that particular time.

deni's avatar

What? I usually fly with southwest and aside from takeoff and landing they do allow airplane mode when you’re in the air….hm…?

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