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Why You Need to Turn Off Your iPhone During Landing and Takeoff

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For all you air travellers, how many times have you had to listen to flight attendants ask you to turn off your electronic devices during take off and landing? Many passengers have questioned this policy, but recent research has resulted in evidence that anything with a battery has the possibility of interfering with onboard instruments, according to the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA), a non-profit that develops aviation recommendations for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA):

“Any device with a battery – including cellphones, e-readers, laptops, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and Game Boys – has some level of emission that has the potential to interfere with cockpit instruments or navigational equipment,” says Boeing engineer Dave Carson.

Technical committees have evaluated many portable electronic devices and found the margin of safety is not sufficient to allow passengers to use them during takeoff and landing, says Carson, co-chairman of an RTCA committee that studied portable electronic devices on aircraft.

Even an iPhone in Airplane mode isn’t immune to emitting frequencies that can possibly interfere with instrument panels. Apple describes Airplane mode as the following:

Airplane mode disables the wireless features of your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to comply with airline regulations.

The following features are turned off: cellular (voice and data), WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Location services.

But here is one story of a Canadair compass working improperly due to a passenger’s iPhone in Airplane mode, instead of being turned off:

A pilot of a Canadair CRJ-200 regional jet reported compass system malfunctions after takeoff at an altitude of about 9,000 feet on a flight last May. The pilot says a passenger had an iPhone in standby mode; when the phone was turned off, the compass system operated properly

As this is only one incident, it might be easy to dismiss it. But is it that unreasonable to ask passengers to turn off their electronics during take off and landing? We sometimes forget we’re strapped to chairs 38,000 feet in the sky and traveling at over 600 KM/h. Should we really take the risk of bringing the plane down, only to play Bejeweled?

I’m sure most of can live without using our devices for a few minutes, unless you’re a Words with Friends addict like Alec Baldwin. Do you turn off your devices during take off and landing, or have ever dismissed instructions to do so?

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  • Alex

    This article certainly opened my eyes. Always turned off my phone but that story only reinforced my thoughts. I hope no one is selfish enough to disagree with this policy.

  • Nick

    Game Boys? How old is that article?

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always turned things off, don’t fuck with the rules in an airplane. But seriously, I would’ve thought airplane mode was fine. Good to know that it’s the battery too so any device should be off.

  • pedzz

    Fine 3ds lmao

  • Mark Morissette

    I find these stories rather disingenuous when in the same breath the FAA approved (this week) iPad usage right in the cockpit for approach plates.    http://travel.usatoday.com/flights/post/2011/12/ipad-cockpit-american-airlines/584646/1
    I’m a pilot myself, have used my iPhone as well as older GPRS (archaic, but highly more interferance generating) smartphones in my own cockpit over the years and never seen any oddities..and I’m mere inches from the avionics.

  • Although it “may” interfere it rarely does. If you think the safety of millions of travellers is in the hands of a bunch of crackberry and iphone addicts you’re wrong. The rule has been in place before iPhone’s even existed. I fly charters and you can be using your phone at takeoff (kinda). It’s actually because over 90% of anything that’s gonna go wrong on the flight happens at takeoff or landing and clearly they recommend everyone be attentive during those times, so don’t worry about it too much.

  • Weee

    I always have my IOS devices in Airplane Mode during the entire flight but never turned them off. It is simply a common sense that any battery powered device could “potentially” interfere with others, not just airplane equipment. If this is serious, we should be flying naked without any electronics (no phones, no laptops, no watches, no TV, no credit card machines for food purchasing, no noise cancelling headphones, etc.) They aren’t allowed during take off and landing is because they want your full attention in case anything happens. Paying attention to where the exits are is more likely to help you survive than turning the phone off. 

  • iAppleEd

    My question is why is American Ailines having all it’s pilots use iPads (an electronic device with a battery). This device will be used within inches of all their sensitive cockpit instruments.

    I still think that further study into this outdated myth is needed.

    BTW, I always turn off all my electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

  • Cykf_cyyz

    I’m all for people not using their phones during takeoff and landings since it is the most dangerous part of flying and if anything where to happen you need to be ready to listen and move to any instruction given by the cabin crew.
    However, once the pilots I work with start turning off their phones and stop using the bluetooth headsets while they are flying I will do the same. Until then my phone will stay pluged into the seat being charged

  • iAppleEd

    I forgot to post the article citing the American Ailines use of iPads …
    http://www.slashgear.com/american-airlines-gets-first-ipad-for-cockpit-approval-by-faa-13202062/

  • steve81

    If electronic devices could interfere with onboard instruments, they would be banned. The real reason they ask you to turn off your electronic devices is to have your full attention during the critical phases of the flight (takeoff and landing) in case something happens. That’s why Airplane mode isn’t enough.

    As for electronic devices in hospitals, I don’t think there is any risk of interference, unless maybe you’re right next to a medical device. But there is a good reason to ask people to turn off their mobile phones in hospitals: who wants to hear people yapping in their mobile phones in an hospital? Airplane mode is perfect for hospitals (maybe it should be called Hospital mode).

  • If it were that simple, terrorists would just take flights and not turn off their electronic devices.

  • Anonymous

    Mythbusters tried cell interference and found nothing at all … An FAA official said that they have not proved any interference from cell phones but that they change too often to constantly test so “better safe then sorry” and ban the use of all during take off and landing.

  • Yyyyd

    I work in aviation and this is mostly crap.  The best recent story is from a Canadair RJ-200’s compass?  I highly doubt the iPhone was the problem, but in the unlikely event that it was, a compass isn’t really used in the navigation of modern aircraft anyway.  Generally aircraft are using GPS to navigate to and from airports and on approach to land and taking off.  Compasses are used more as a redundant system when other instruments fail.  There’s just so many other systems to use for navigation than a compass and the loss of a compass certainly wouldn’t “bring the plane down”.

    I have heard concerns that the combined use of say 130 cellphones using data or searching for a signal could become a concern.  I still believe that the signals emitted are just too weak to cause any measurable interference, even when multiplied by a plane full of cellphone users.

  • ck

    Even Mythbusters has proved this as crap.  Also, cellphones have been legal on all domestic flights in México for at least a year.

  • Good lord.  The reason has nothing to do with the devices, the interference or the fear of terrorist targeting through the cell signals.  The reason is, the most dangerous time for a plane is during take off and landing.  They want people to be paying attention in the event they need to take action like get the hell off the plane, or assist other passengers.

  • You’re Wrong

    No, if that were true they would be prompting everyone to be alert.  They very much care about devices being turned off for the supposed interference.  I’ve never seen a flight attendant stop someone from reading a magazine or book which would be just as distracting.  This would otherwise be the main point brought up by the FAA or Transport Canada, but neither of them mention passenger’s attention as the principle concern in this matter.

  • Just546

    Don’t take things at face value. Question what people try to tell you…read the comments above.
    Pilots allowed to use iPads.

  • philjones13

    I sat beside an off-duty Air Canada pilot a month ago on the flight.  He had an iPhone and put it in airplane mode for take-off.  I guess he needs educating…

  • Mhuydc

    Actually..cell phones can interfere with accurate results on telemetry or certain ecg machine scanning… I have seen it mess with the results when cell phones are on and near the machines..

  • Anon

    Even though this myth has been proven false, it’s a minor inconvenience to turn off your phone for a few minutes.  Alec Baldwin is a total a-hole.

  • paddyrb

    Why can pilots now use iPads while at the controls?  Are the batteries different?  Does this mean that people with pacemakers are no longer allowed to fly?  I turn my electronic devices off every time I fly.  I don’t mind doing that.  What I do mind is being lied to about the reason.  This is akin to turning off your phones in a hospital while doctors are walking around with cell phones and pagers on.  Create the policies you want based upon some credible information with logical, factual support, just don’t make up ghost stories.  Try telling the truth – that battery operated devices attract flocks of geese – and it will be easier to accept.  Is fantasy based fear the only thing you have become accustomed to?

  • Anonymous

    If we cannot conclusively say that they won’t cause a problem, then there is a chance they will. So shut them off for the couple mins it takes to take off.

  • another FA

    It’s much easier to get the attention of someone reading a book or magazine in an emergency than someone who is plugged into their iPod/iphone listening to their tunes at ear blasting levels.  When securing the cabin you can barely get their attention when you’re standing right in front of them.  All that said, even if device interference isn’t proven it also hasn’t been proven to be safe therefore Transport Canada has Not approved their use in most instances and that is why flight attendants are required to harass our guests to please turn everything off.

  • Pat437

    Follow the rules especially it doesn’t bother you that much. People like to know the reason why before they follow rules, sorry, it is not your home, and they must have a safety reason for that, otherwise why trying to piss off passengers ? Fly your own plane of you want to surf text and watch DVD while landing.

  • Guy

    An anecdote (1 example) is not science. I am happy to comply with the request but it is not unreasonable to ask for proof.

  • Anonymous

    Next thing you’ll be asking me to turn my iPhone off in an intensive care ward of a hospital.  You’d think for all the money that an airliner or medical equipment costs they’d build the stuff with proper shielding.  Just saying…

  • if this was really an issue then planes would be falling out of the sky on a daily basis. I for one do not turn off my phone, i just put it away, as do most of the other passengers I have seen flying. I can’t even count the times i have seen business men just put their phones in their coat and once we are off the ground take it out. Stories like this are just bull. Their maybe some other legit reason they do not want you to have your phone on, but interfering with electronic equipment is just BS. Even hospitals don’t enforced their no cell phone rule anymore.

  • Supposedly there is one piece of medical equipment where a cellular signal does interfere with it and yes the piece of machinery escapes me at the moment. Though they don’t allow people to willy nilly walk into that location of the hospital either.  Think it does have to do with some special cardiac equipment.. anyway..

    What I find interesting about all of this is how the airplanes are flying through various microwaves, radio waves generated by various terrestrial equipment on the ground. Never heard of a airplane falling from the sky because it was flying through the path of microwave signals propagating around the world.

  • Chili

    It’s COMPLETE bullshit.
    There has NEVER been an issue in the history of commercial flight, with portable FCC approved electronic devices causing any problems for airplanes.
    It’s just fear and simple paranoia.
    I always make sure to turn on all my devices when taking off.

  • Hoobertheever

    Three practical solutions: 1) allow the airport security goons to force grandma to trash her hearing aids along with her crochet hook; 2) include at least one large-framed attendant on each flight capable of seizing an offending device and grinding it to rubble under the heel of her boot; 3) require aircraft manufacturers to build in a device that can be used to defenestrate recalcitrant passengers.

  • Adam Antoszek-Rallo

    How is it “disingenuous” to allow pilots to use a single device examined by the FAA, where the pilot is both in complete control of turning it on and off, and knowing with certainty the aforementioned on or off state? That is a very different scenario from allowing passengers to have a multitude of unknown devices not examined by the FAA, turned on or off at the passengers whims, with the pilots having no knowledge of the quantity, quality, or state of these devices, let alone any control on the matter whatsoever.

    Come on people, allowing pilots to use iPads is not akin to allowing passengers use iPads. Just as the plane already has many sophisticated pieces of electronics on it, as a passenger it is potentially unsafe for me to bring aboard the same equipment and use them simply because “the pilot has one too”! To put it another way, the FAA not allowing pilots to drink alcohol while flying is not disingenuous since passengers are allowed to have a drink.

  • Kraken

    The cell phone on the airplane myth has been proven false many times over.  Thousands of people fly everyday, and many don’t turn their devices off.   There has NEVER been an incident where a mobile device has caused a crash.

  • Nsjdjudidd

    Thats complete bs. Pilots even have there devices on and now they can have iPads in the cock pits…

  • Anonymous

    Some hospitals do, but it’s more to stop people from yapping away loudly on the phones outside patients’ rooms instead of potential interference with electronic equipment. Which I’m totally for.

  • Anonymous

    They “change too often to constantly test”? Sounds like a load of crap to me! lol

  • Myles Cloutier

    Uhh, this is ridiculous. If the battery interferes during take-off and landing why not when in the air? If an iPhone is capable of taking a plane down why are they allowed on planes? Why aren’t the “terrorists” bringing iPhones on flights and leaving them on?

  • margaret

    Does no one understand that the speed of acceleration required to take off is enough to eliminate the effects of gravity. Hence the requirement to be strapped in during take off and landing. Planes fly at the top or above troposphere. There is turbulence usually from the sun’s magnetic field causing solar winds that distort our magnetosphere. causing the bumpy jumpiness before the plane levels out for steady flight. the magnetosphere makes up the lowest layer of the troposphere(first atmospheric layer)typically the first layer of our atmosphere is about 5 miles thick, depending on time of year and weather, humidity, etc. planes fly approx. 6.6 miles above the earth. Even though our magnetic field extends 36,000 miles into space. The direct affect that our north and south poles have on navigational devices is most reliable and basically only possible within the magnetosphere. Above this computer equipment is required, Maybe they don’t want to risk combining speed, atmospheric transition, required electrical devices(plane), and unneeded ones so as to prevent a glitch in the plane knowing which direction it is going. The towers have to have precise location so they can prevent planes crossing eachother. It is not federally mandated to turn phones off, it is left up to the discretion of the airline. It is simply liability. Like cups of coffee labeled as being hot. except for the airlines cant afford to be held accountable for planes straying off course full of people that can sue the hell out of them had they not of notified everyone to shut off their devices. Note the connection between radiation emitted constantly from devices that are within inches of our bodies daily, and the possible obstruction of electrical devices. Sort of confuses the plane by electrical disorientation caused by this radiation. funny since our brains are comprised solely of electrical impulses

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