WootBot


quality posts: 15 Private Messages WootBot

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Let’s have a moment of silence for one of the co-founders of modern flight: Wilbur Wright passed on to the great baggage claim in the sky exactly one hundred years ago this month. Poor Wilbur may have succumbed to typhus in 1912, but his invention, we will be reminded this month, lives on. May is also the month we commemorate paper airplanes (May 26 is National Paper Airplane Day!) and the beginning of the summer travel season (Memorial Day is the busiest flying weekend of the year so far). So come fly with Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings as he debunks some commonly held—but thoroughly untrue—beliefs about airplanes and aviation. He’ll make sure your historical facts are in the upright and locked position, and that your scientific understanding is securely stowed in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you.

Airplane Myth #2: Cell Phones Are Illegal on Planes Because They’re a Safety Threat.

When the flight attendant tells you to shut off your game of Words with Friends or Draw Something in anticipation of takeoff, do you do your patriotic duty and power down, or do you throw a hissy-fit like Alec Baldwin did when he was kicked off a flight at LAX last year? In general, I’d agree that “not acting like Alec Baldwin” is a pretty good rule of thumb when it comes to social etiquette, but in this case it doesn’t matter much either way.


There is considerable disagreement on just how much effect, if any, small personal electronics devices can have on a big commercial jet designed to withstand things like lightning storms. There is a blanket U.S. government prohibition on in-flight cell phone use, but it has nothing to do with airline avionics or safety. It’s an FCC regulation, not an FAA one. Cell phone towers, you see, are engineered for stationary customers. A plane-full of talkers and texters zooming from cell to cell in quick succession as they fly overhead could seriously hamstring a mobile network.

There’s not a lot of evidence for cell phones causing glitches in airline avionics, mostly because the airlines aren’t really incentivized to change their no-electronics policies (no profit in it) so the effects rarely get tested. Airlines occasionally report technical problems that, they say, magically cleared up when a flight attendant tracked down a rogue phone-user, but Boeing technicians have never been able to duplicate even one. Even the no-phones lobby admits that the systems in post-1984 planes are well shielded from electronic interference, but claim that wear and tear could theoretically degrade that shielding over time. But, again, the operative word is “theoretically.” If you decide to call Mom during landing, you’ll cause a lot more havoc at the phone company than you will in the cockpit.

Quick Quiz: What president was the first to fly in a plane designated “Air Force One,” which was equipped even back then with its own radio-telephone?

Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

 

cliff1976


quality posts: 0 Private Messages cliff1976

hmm...Eisenhower?

chrischampion


quality posts: 1 Private Messages chrischampion

Actually the electronics prohibition IS a FAA "Federal Aviation Regulation", with the ability for individual airlines to permit any other electronic device they determine won't interfere with navigation or communications:

Title 14, Part 121, Section 306
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person may operate, nor may any operator or pilot in command of an aircraft allow the operation of, any portable electronic device on any U.S.-registered civil aircraft operating under this part.

(b) Paragraph (a) of this section does not apply to—

(1) Portable voice recorders;

(2) Hearing aids;

(3) Heart pacemakers;

(4) Electric shavers; or

(5) Any other portable electronic device that the part 119 certificate holder has determined will not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft on which it is to be used.

(c) The determination required by paragraph (b)(5) of this section shall be made by that part 119 certificate holder operating the particular device to be used.

xyxoxy


quality posts: 0 Private Messages xyxoxy

As a spouse of one and a friend of several flight attendants I can tell you that this topic comes up at almost every get together. They freely admit that the cell phones have no effect on airplane equipment. That's not really the point. Take off and landing are the most critical and dangerous parts of any flight. And if problems occur they need all of your focus and attention on them listening to instructions, not head down texting your last will and testament.

"And no sir... Airplane mode is not the same as OFF. Neither is turning it face down on your tray table because you think I'm too stupid to notice. We'll wait..."

I'm told that those announcements of "Someone still has their cell phone on" are not being detected by any high tech electronics. Most flight attendants can tell from your facial expressions and body language if you're on of "those people" who thinks they are above the rules. And trust me... they will hold the flight and embarrass you if necessary.

apoor


quality posts: 2 Private Messages apoor

Ken is sort of right about the cell phones in planes possibly creating problems on the ground, but it's not so much the movement as the altitude (as I understand it). The cell phone system is designed for low-powered phones on the ground, where they can only "see" a few towers. The system can easily determine which tower has the strongest connection, and assign the phone to that one.

At 30,000 feet, your phone can "see" many towers, and the weak signal would probably give the system fits trying to figure out which tower should be responsible for the connection. The movement at 300 mph makes it more complicated because the problem has to be solved over and over again, every minute.

kwsharman


quality posts: 0 Private Messages kwsharman

They most certainly do, the last thing I want is to be recognized inflight and have the cops waiting when we land.

thatheard


quality posts: 6 Private Messages thatheard
kwsharman wrote:They most certainly do, the last thing I want is to be recognized inflight and have the cops waiting when we land.



That's why I always wear a fake mustache when I fly. Sure it's itchy but the anonymity is worth it.

codex


quality posts: 9 Private Messages codex
thatheard wrote:That's why I always wear a fake mustache when I fly. Sure it's itchy but the anonymity is worth it.



The TSA must love you...

My work here is done. Pedant-man, AWAAYYY!!!

Mancho


quality posts: 4 Private Messages Mancho
chrischampion wrote:Actually the electronics prohibition IS a FAA "Federal Aviation Regulation", with the ability for individual airlines to permit any other electronic device they determine won't interfere with navigation or communications:

Title 14, Part 121, Section 306
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person may operate, nor may any operator or pilot in command of an aircraft allow the operation of, any portable electronic device on any U.S.-registered civil aircraft operating under this part.

(b) Paragraph (a) of this section does not apply to—

(1) Portable voice recorders;

(2) Hearing aids;

(3) Heart pacemakers;

(4) Electric shavers; or

(5) Any other portable electronic device that the part 119 certificate holder has determined will not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft on which it is to be used.

(c) The determination required by paragraph (b)(5) of this section shall be made by that part 119 certificate holder operating the particular device to be used.



Interesting. I'm curious what the reaction would be if I took a middle seat and whipped out my electric shaver during takeoff.

profbrendan


quality posts: 7 Private Messages profbrendan
Mancho wrote:Interesting. I'm curious what the reaction would be if I took a middle seat and whipped out my electric shaver during takeoff.


Depends on what you're shaving.

garylapointe


quality posts: 0 Private Messages garylapointe


When the plan starts to descend (especially on longer flights) you can hear all the phones that were not turned off beeping and chirping as text messages and voicemails from the last few hours start arriving.

All those phones were trying to grab a signal and attach to a tower during flight.

From the users standpoint, it probably seriously drained their battery too. Searching for signal always seems toi drain power in my experience.

Gary
http://GarySaid.com/

Gary

Gary Said... (my blog) GHotos (my PHotos) Montezuma Pacific (photos from my favorite section of Costa Rica)
The Daily Meme.

mickleness


quality posts: 0 Private Messages mickleness

I can do without my cell phone on a plane (I don't have friends to talk to)... but turning off my Kindle during takeoff and landing really bugs me. (Or maybe it's the 30 minutes of reading nothing but Skymall that bugs me?) If a crisis comes up and the attendants want my attention it's just like a book: I can put it down, club my neighbor over the head with it to get to the exit faster, hide behind it in fear, etc.

wvtechguru


quality posts: 1 Private Messages wvtechguru
profbrendan wrote:Depends on what you're shaving.



Nice, +1 this!

bradyson


quality posts: 5 Private Messages bradyson
cliff1976 wrote:hmm...Eisenhower?



FDR?

But you're probably right because Air Force One wasn't "technically" used until Eisenhower.

elezar


quality posts: 4 Private Messages elezar
xyxoxy wrote:As a spouse of one and a friend of several flight attendants I can tell you that this topic comes up at almost every get together. They freely admit that the cell phones have no effect on airplane equipment. That's not really the point. Take off and landing are the most critical and dangerous parts of any flight. And if problems occur they need all of your focus and attention on them listening to instructions, not head down texting your last will and testament.

"And no sir... Airplane mode is not the same as OFF. Neither is turning it face down on your tray table because you think I'm too stupid to notice. We'll wait..."

I'm told that those announcements of "Someone still has their cell phone on" are not being detected by any high tech electronics. Most flight attendants can tell from your facial expressions and body language if you're on of "those people" who thinks they are above the rules. And trust me... they will hold the flight and embarrass you if necessary.



Hmm, that certainly sounds like ex post facto justification. If it was just to keep the passengers' attention, then turning it upside down on the table WOULD be just as good as turning it off. Either way, it keeps me from using it.

But even more than that, if it's only for attention's sake, then why does it only apply to electronics? Why don't they make us put away any books, magazines (including Sky Mall), food, watches, shirt buttons, or anything else that we can be doing instead of paying attention?

I'm sure the attendants WANT people to pay attention, but it just doesn't make sense for that to be the reason for this rule.

motospyder


quality posts: 16 Private Messages motospyder

I think the question is irrelevant. If the airline company wants no electronics "on" during flight (or whenever), then we turn them off. Arguing while on the plane and complaining about it off the plane is a true waste of time.
The people I love are those who think the rules/laws don't apply to them or who think they can "fool" the F.A.s by turning over or hiding their electronics. In the mean time, we will wait for you to turn OFF your phone before we take off (Ah Sole). Yes, I am talking to you, Mr. Baldwin. If you are going to fly like the rest of us, then you need to act like the rest of us. grrrrr

crustyjoe


quality posts: 0 Private Messages crustyjoe

Actually one explanation that I heard which makes sense to me is that the airline doesn't care if you electronics are off or on, they want you to put them away. They supposedly don't want a bunch of loose projectiles during take off and landing when crap would most likely happen.

gossamerica


quality posts: 19 Private Messages gossamerica

Ooh, you found one of my favorite soapboxes! One of my favorite moments was when a flight attendant didn't care if a girl's ipod was off -- just that she didn't have earbuds in her ears. "On" isn't the issue -- distracted is.

According to this article, 80% of plane accidents take place in the first 3 minutes and last 8 minutes of flight. If something happens, you want to minimize possible distractions, projectiles, obstacles in the aisles, etc.

So why are books allowed? Well, they can't very well claim that your book is interfering with flight electronics, can they? ;-) Actually, you can put down a book a lot faster than you can unplug your headphones, save your file, and close and stash your laptop. (And maybe people are more willing to leave their book behind to burn than their laptop full of files they didn't back up).

That article and others (links available if you really care) talk about the importance of reviewing the safety information, mentally practicing what you'd do, etc. They want you to actually pay attention, so put your distractions away.

Finally, in answer to the headline question (Does using a mobile phone on a plane pose a safety risk?), I'd say, yes it does. It's a danger to the guy using the phone. He was driving me crazy talking loudly while we were sitting at the gate. If I had to listen to that for three hours, I'd kill him!

elezar


quality posts: 4 Private Messages elezar
motospyder wrote:I think the question is irrelevant. If the airline company wants no electronics "on" during flight (or whenever), then we turn them off. Arguing while on the plane and complaining about it off the plane is a true waste of time.
The people I love are those who think the rules/laws don't apply to them or who think they can "fool" the F.A.s by turning over or hiding their electronics. In the mean time, we will wait for you to turn OFF your phone before we take off (Ah Sole). Yes, I am talking to you, Mr. Baldwin. If you are going to fly like the rest of us, then you need to act like the rest of us. grrrrr


I don't think it's irrelevant at all. If people don't speak up about the things they don't like from a service provider, they're definitely not going to get better. Yes, as long as the rule is there, then we're obligated to follow it. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to get the rule changed. And, I agree that the people who think they don't have to follow the rules are jerks. However, I also can see why people that are singled out get annoyed by the inequality. They never make everyone turn off all electronics. I can't remember a time in the past 5 years that I've been on a flight where SOMEONE wasn't still using some electronic device while we were on the taxiway. If they're going to enforce the rules, then they should enforce them for everyone.

crustyjoe wrote:Actually one explanation that I heard which makes sense to me is that the airline doesn't care if you electronics are off or on, they want you to put them away. They supposedly don't want a bunch of loose projectiles during take off and landing when crap would most likely happen.


Again, why would that only apply to electronics? That hard-cover copy of War And Peace is going to be a much worse projectile than someone's iPhone!

gossamerica wrote:So why are books allowed? Well, they can't very well claim that your book is interfering with flight electronics, can they? ;-) Actually, you can put down a book a lot faster than you can unplug your headphones, save your file, and close and stash your laptop. (And maybe people are more willing to leave their book behind to burn than their laptop full of files they didn't back up).


So why do they need to make that claim at all? Just tell us the truth. Sure, there will be some people that think the rule is ridiculous, and that they don't need to pay attention. That's better than EVERYONE thinking the rule is ridiculous, because the reasoning is a lie… The "speed to put down" issue is silly, since it's not actually true, but even if was, then why include all electronics together? Just include laptops and headphones. And whether someone is willing to leave it behind or not is also completely ridiculous, but if it wasn't, it would actually be an argument the OTHER way. If you're not willing to leave it behind, the it would be better for it to already be in your hands!

RWoodward


quality posts: 58 Private Messages RWoodward

This reminds me of a recent meal when a waitress informed me that it is "illegal" to serve a hamburger that is less than well done.

Not in this jurisdiction it's not. (Some communities passed such nanny state laws, but not ours.)

If your company has a policy against it, fine. Say so. Don't lie to me about some non-existent "law."