I've always been careful about putting my phone into "airplane mode" when flight attendants ask. However, a few years back, for reasons that I've yet to see any explanation for, flight attendants changed the script and started insisting that "flight mode" wasn't enough any more and you had to turn the phone all the way off. I've asked many times why this switch was made, and no one can say. At the point when that happened, I happened to have a smartphone that had no ability to turn off
. I looked. There was no power button. There was nothing in the software that was a "turn off" function. The only way to turn it off was to pull out the battery. I did that on a few flights and then figured it was stupid. So I stopped. And nothing happened. With my current phone, I've tried to "turn it off" but even when it says it's turning off it's not really turning off (because when I switch the battery, it takes about 3 minutes to boot up -- but if I "turn it off" and then turn it back on, it's ready to go within a second). Today, I still always put it into flight mode, but that's it. I turn off the screen and put the phone away, but I don't "turn it off" because it's pretty clear the phone doesn't actually turn off. And the requirement is silly. Similarly, my tablet stays on in my bag and my laptop is generally in "sleep" mode, but not off.
And I'm not alone. It seems that lots of people leave their devices on
when they fly.
In a study released on Thursday by two industry groups, the Airline Passenger Experience Association and the Consumer Electronics Association, as many as 30 percent of all passengers said they had accidentally left a device on during takeoff or landing. About 67 percent said they had never done this, always ensuring that their electronics were turned off. Four percent were unsure.
In another segment of the study, passengers were asked if they turn their devices to “off” when instructed to do so by the pilot. Although 59 percent of passengers said they do fully turn their electronics off, 21 percent said they often simply switch to “airplane mode,” which disables the main radios of a gadget. Five percent sometimes adhere to the rule. And others were either unsure or do not carry electronic devices on a plane.
People give all sorts of reasons for why the devices should be turned off, but none of them make much sense. There is the interference question, but given how many of these devices stay on, there would be at least some real evidence of interference by now if that were really a big concern. There is the "gotta pay attention to the flight attendants" argument, but then they wouldn't let you sleep or read a book during takeoff. There's the "flying device is dangerous if something goes wrong" argument, but that applies equally to books. So, what is the reasoning? There's either some reason that no one's explaining... or just a ridiculous overabundance of caution where it's clearly not necessary.
Of course, as I was finishing up this post, someone passed along a Bloomberg video that claims that phones do interfere with flight GPS
. If you look at at the text that goes with the video
, they cite a story of a flight that went off course until flight attendants convinced someone to turn off an iPhone. However, nowhere in the video do they even mention that story or give any data or support for that claim. The video claims are also suspect. They name a single
study from nearly a decade ago talking about a single phone, which is no longer on the market, that caused some interference. The other "studies" they look at include a very small number of claims from pilots who claim problems and that they "suspect" interference from phones, but those are never confirmed. They found 75 such claims over six years, but without any evidence to back them up.
Again, given how often people leave their devices on, you would expect a lot more verifiable evidence beyond a few pilots "suspecting" that phones were the problem, when a variety of other variables might have been a part of it.