Why do you have to turn your iPhone off during take-off? That’s an age old question that travelers have likely wondered once or twice. On a commercial airline, passengers are required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to completely power off electronic devices while the plane ascends into the sky.

Surely smartphones and tablets emit radio waves of some kind that could potentially interfere with the pilot’s instruments? As it turns out, there’s no proven reason that you have to turn your iPhone and iPad off during take-off. In fact, the FAA doesn’t even really know why it has the rule in place.

In the history of the American airline industry, not one crash has been attributed to the use of technology by passengers on a plane. If iPhones, iPads, Kindles, and Nintendo DSs could in fact crash a Boeing 737, you’d think that the Transportation Security Administration wouldn’t allow these devices to make it onto planes in the first place. Perhaps they realize that no one would fly at all if phones and computers were not allowed on flights.

In a statement provided to The New York Times, the FAA explained why its rule on turning electronics off is still in place:

“There was no evidence saying these devices can’t interfere with a plane, and there was no evidence saying that they can.”

Yeah. That’s the answer. You have to turn electronic devices off because there’s no proof that you should be able to leave electronic devices on.

If the caution is a matter of radio signals, then why not permit passengers to put their iPhones into Airplane Mode? That’s what the setting is there for, right?

The New York Times has concluded that the FAA is probably making things worse with its current policy:

The government might be causing more unnecessary interference on planes by asking people to shut their devices down for take-off and landing and then giving them permission to restart all at the same time. According to electrical engineers, when the electronic device starts, electric current passes through every part of the gadget, including GPS, Wi-Fi, cellular radio and microprocessor.

Bottom line: you should be able to use your iPhone in Airplane Mode before you reach 10,000 feet. There’s no proof that you shouldn’t.

[image via Flickr]

  • I never switch any of my devices off or to airplane mode. It’s a load of bollox!

  • I’ve always heard that they changed it to “you’ll pay better attention if they’re off.”

  • I have always thought this is a silly rule. How do they really know your phone is off? They don’t. They don’t actually go around to each person and check the device like they check the seatbelts and seats. Your phone is in your pocket anyway.

    I have been on flights where they have asked me to shut down my noise cancelling headphones (they have an on-off button, after all). Other airlines put in there magazines that noise cancelling headphones are ok any time.

    Most recently, I have chosen to completely ignore these requirements on planes. Sometimes I put my phone in airplane mode (most of the time), sometimes I just ignore the whole thing. But I have never actually really put the phone off completely, ever. With my iPad now, I don’t even bother at all.

  • I can understand for computers and bigger devices because you need them off the tray table and out of your lap. But for phones and ipods, it is a load of nonsense

  • The truth is that they don’t know if you did or not…

  • i never power off my iphone during flights. i actually monitor my Map to pinpoint my exact location while flying until the GPS signal is lost.

  • Siddharth Desai

    Having flown for a couple of years, these devices do interfere with flight instruments. Such as ILS and VOR receivers. But not to a point where it will disorient the aircraft or harm the aircraft.

    • Anonymous

      That only happens on older aircraft and nothing in commercial service these days. All airlines have to have shielded cabling which completely makes turning your phone off irrelevant.

  • well weather is right or wrong, i don’t want to be on the plane that finds out!

    • No Whammy

      Let me guess, you also believe in Jesus just in case the Christians are right. I’d jump on the Allah band wagon as well…it’d be a shame to find out they were right instead.

  • I ignore the requests to turn off my devices and no planes that I have been on have ever crashed at landing or takeoff.

  • In first class not only was I allowed to keep my phone on I could even make a call during takeoff and I was told by the flight attendant that those restrictions were only for coach passengers I made a call during takeoff and landing too! And it was American airlines

    • Many airlines do offer mobile connections on board, at extra cost off course. It’s like roaming. So what’s the problem?

      I use GPS because I like to know where I am.

  • It’s all about planes that fly by wire…and the phone signal might interfere with the planes electronics …

    • Anonymous

      It’s simply not an issue these days as airlines are required to have shielded wiring.

  • Dunja Schroeder

    Just a few points:
    -Is there any GSM signal in 38000ft? – (battery empty when landed)
    -So there would be 200 phones searching for signal? – (nice amount of radiation)
    -Noticed the sound a searching phone makes if placed next to a radio or speakers? – (pilots don’t need their radios to communicate to air traffic services – no, what they talk is unimportant)
    -by the way – unimportant – 200 phones getting massages in approach to the airport (everybody is so important that silent mode of his mobile is unacceptable) about roaming info or other very important things.
    -You have to tell somebody that you are landed?? – there is an app for that

    I like flying, the only place where nobody next to you is telling somebody things you don”t want to hear.

  • Of course there is no proof electronic devices can interfere with a plane. If the danger was real, they’d never let passengers have them carry-on.

    It’s silly to think that my life, the lives of every person on board, and the proper operation of the plane all depend on the ditsy tween sitting in seat 23A agreeing that she can wait to listen to Justin Bieber on her iPod Touch until we reach cruising altitude.

  • Bob Ochoa

    On the plane yesterday the guy behind me asked a similar question of a pilot (happened to be a passenger on our flight) and the response made slightly more sense to me than the explanation above. In the days of old when the equipment was only radio based the airlines could certify with certainty if a old time gadget would interfere….but with digital and the vast number of carriers, signals etc the cost to certify each scenario would be nearly impossible to do so one time and then keep up with the changes would make it impossible. For this reason and for the ultimate safety of the passengers and crew, the airlines choose to not allow any gadgets to be on. I don’t like it but would not want to be the one that brought down an airline just for a few minutes of time with my gadget.

  • Anonymous

    I say its BS cuz you really think that TSA would let you carry a phone on board if they knew it could potentially crash it? terrorists wouldnt have to go to such lengths to blow shit up

  • does this have anything to do with the iphone that self-combusted ??

  • Anonymous

    I travel all the time and only put it into airplane mode. I travelled just today.

  • If you are not fidgeting or playing with your electronic gadgets during take off or landing, there is more chance you will pay better attention to the safety and procedures presentations. One rule for all.

  • Well, I always put it into Airplane mode. Battery lasts longer. Music plays even longer.

  • turn of your watches¡¡¡ u may be able to do it if you shrink it in water from the toilet, ohh wait, they are all water proof.. ur doomed to crash

  • Anonymous

    i wanna see a guy answers his phone during takeoff. Many people will shit in their pants!! ;D

  • I had no idea that it had to be turned off. I just flew last week and had my headphones back on, listening to music, way before the safe altitude. I honestly didn’t know that was a rule. Maybe that’s why I was getting dirty looks from the flight attendant and fellow passengers! lol

  • Daniel

    The rule is complete bullshit. However you still should switch the Airplane Mode function on if your device has it, because losing signal causes the device to use more power, because it searches for all supported technologies and this will drain your battery fairly quickly.