Lifestyle West Blog

Travel Concern: Cell Phone Use In-Flight Sparks Questions

October 18, 2012 | by Christina Van

Any air travel passenger who has been right in the middle of a good part of their eBook or has kicked back, comfortably listening to their iPod playlist only to be told, "You need to power down, we're getting ready to begin descent" may have wondered, "is it really necessary?"

Airplane Mode on the iPhone

Turn on "Airplane Mode" or keep it off? It's a question still under debate.

Does your electronic equipment really interfere with the airplane's navigation equipment? Sure, you might be able to understand not making a cell phone call -- but is it necessary for eBook readers, music players, laptops or other electronics to be shut down too?

At the moment, there is no real answer to that question. It seems like it would be clear-cut. But the scattered reports of electronic use creating some sort of confusion with airline equipment has been difficult to replicate in controlled settings, making determining what causes which problems a challenge.

For example, USA Today reports in their online article, Should U.S. airlines allow cell calls during flight:

-- The crew of a DC-9 approaching Philadelphia in October 2003 got a warning on an instrument panel saying they were about to collide with a plane less than a mile ahead. After plane climbed from 6,000 to 7,000 feet, air traffic controllers said radar showed no other plane nearby. A flight attendant later said she caught a passenger trying to call her daughter about the time the plane started climbing.

-- A Boeing 737's instruments swung oddly during a flight descending into Baltimore in March 2003, and crew members found themselves a mile off course as they broke through clouds at 1,800 feet. The captain suspected several passengers used cellphones after an announcement about the war in Iraq.

However, consistent interference like this has been difficult to test.

It is interesting that in parts of Europe and the Middle East, air travelers have been able to make cell phone calls and texts for a few years now. That's right -- people are using their cell phones in the air, without it interfering with airplane equipment. Do the European airlines know something that US carriers don't?

Also from the USA Today article we read:

"There is a misperception out there that it is dangerous," says Patrick Brannelly, spokesman for Emirates Airline, which began offering the service in 2008 and now has it on about 90 of 175 planes. "I think the real fear is people yabbering on the phone at loud volume, annoying people around them. That just simply hasn't happened."

A new report from the Federal Aviation Administration found no problems on foreign airlines with flight safety related to cell use in the air. This raises the questions as to whether the U.S. cellphone use ban is outdated.

But in light of some of the reported safety concerns, for now, the FAA and U.S. regulations will remain the same as they continue to evaluate and analyze reports and information.


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