What happens when you don’t switch your iPhone to Airplane Mode?

“Airline passengers are repeatedly told to switch their mobile phones to flight mode – but what happens if they don’t?” Chris Kitching reports for The Daily Mail. “There’s a belief that a phone’s signal can interfere with important electrical or telecommunications systems in the cockpit, but is it capable of causing a plane to crash?”

“There is no evidence signals from passengers’ electronic devices have ever caused a plane to malfunction and crash, and experts said modern technology is safe and reliable,” Kitching reports. “If anything, a mobile that hasn’t been switched to flight mode may just annoy pilots and air traffic controllers with an unpleasant sound.”

“It’s the same kind of noise that can be heard over speakers if a mobile is nearby and it’s due to the phone’s powerful radio emissions,” Kitching reports. “The risk of interference has been drastically reduced by modern technology.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote back in March 2012:

On any given flight, multiple people with iOS and other devices never turn them off (likely, some of these people don’t even know how to really turn their iOS devices off) or never even put them to sleep. They certainly don’t put them into “Airplane Mode,” either. Their Wi-Fi is on all flight long and most of the time there are at least three personal hotspots bouncing all throughout the plane, too. The fact is – we see it almost every flight – some people simply hide them from the flight attendants and continue to use them during takeoff and/or landing and, guess what, we’re still here.

How to turn on Airplane Mode:
On your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, swipe up from the bottom of your Home screen to open Control Center, then tap Airplane Mode. On your Apple Watch, swipe up on your watch face to see Glances. Swipe left or right to get to the Settings Glance, then tap Airplane Mode.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Lynn Weiler” for the heads up.]

32 Comments

  1. If flight safety always used the principle that it’s worked OK for the last dozen tries, then it must be safe, we wouldn’t enjoy anything like the safety record that we do.

    The whole principle is based on minimising risks, even rather obscure risks, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect people to turn off RF devices during the critical take-off or landing phases, but some people are so full of themselves that they can’t possibly cope without updating their FaceBook profile for ten minutes.

    1. Carrying your thinking on to other RF sources, it would be logical to then turn off all cell phones that are under the flight path within a few hundred meters and also to turn off any cell phone towers near the flight path and to also insist that taxis, emergency vehicles and amateur radio operators turn off their radios while planes near them are taking off or landing. Don’t forget the people in their homes who might use microwave ovens that ‘might’ interfere with aircraft radios. Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the BIGGEST SOURCE OF RF INTERFERENCE: the sun. We must remember to turn it off when aircraft are taking off and landing. You can’t be too safe you know.

      By the way, I used to be a commercial pilot and never had any problems with cell phone interference in my planes.

        1. Actually, after I quit flying, I went back to school and got a degree in Telecommunications Electronics. I actually know what I am talking about and don’t just go along with stupid old rules that don’t have any basis in science or engineering. How about YOU?

          1. I believe the basic principle for flight safety is that if you cannot prove it is safe, then it is prohibit. They are waiting for a positive confirmation, not an accident to happen.

            1. I am still waiting for ‘them’ to prove that ice-cream is safe to be onboard an aircraft. Right now, I know that there is a ‘crew of people’ working to prove that it is safe to allow vonheim to be on an aircraft so until then, you must be prohibited.

          2. I’m an audio professional who has designed radio microphone and RF communications equipment for Raycom- who used to be the leading broadcast RF specialists in the UK until the owner Ray Whithers passed away a few years ago. I was involved with BlueTooth long before most computer people had ever heard of it and when it seemed unlikely to ever work..

            One of the challenges with audio these days is combatting RF interference so I most certainly do know about how RF gets into unwanted places and what can be done about it.

      1. The flight instrument wiring is INSIDE a big shield, called the airplane body… Outside transmissions are extremely unlikely to cause interference unless they are beams directed directly at the aircraft.

        1. Yes, you are partly right. The windows are larger than the wavelengths of the radio waves of interest and allow them inside how ever, the radios inside are also completely shielded and any signals originating in the aircraft would have to pass through those same windows outside to the aircraft ANTENNAS where all those external signals that I mentioned could be picked up and interfere with the plane’s navigation systems if they were also incredibly poorly designed.

          Remember folks: you don’t have to be bothered with facts or logic to post on this forum, you just have to have an uniformed opinion and a keyboard.

      2. Though I can see your point about the impossibility of turning off cell towers and RF devices in the path of flight, wouldn’t modern cellphones not in Airplane mode step up antennae power (and resulting interference) to try to connect to cell towers that get increasingly farther away during a plane’s ascent?

    2. Alanaudio, I understand your point of view. But this discussion is not based on the last “half a dozen times.” It is based upon many, many thousands of flights that have been executed safely despite many electronic devices being active and spewing RF. Some planes and avionics systems are probably more sensitive than others. But the biggest source of EMI/RFI for an avionics component is its own internal emissions and the emissions of nearby components. Sensitive avionics are shielded for a reason, and so are emissive components.

      I am not saying that all restrictions on the use of electronic devices should be lifted. But the fact that devices can now be used during flight except for takeoff and landing says a lot. And the fact that many commercial airplanes fifer their own WiFi services adds to that.

      The solution is to design and test airliners to withstand the equivalent of 10x or more the maximum output of an airplane full of cell phones and iPads and laptops. Then we can lget rid of these antiquated rules.

  2. The reason to turn off the phone is to save the battery. After about 8000 ft. the phone usually won’t reach ground cellular antennas……in flight at say 30000 ft. the phone if left on will attempt to reach cell antennas by pinging for them constantly. When you arrive at your destination your battery will be severely depleated.
    Turning the phone off or placing it in airplane mode prevents the search for cellular service and substantially reduces the battery drain.

    1. I doubt that the airlines give a damn about the charge left on your battery, but it’s worth noting that when the cellular signal weakens, in an attempt to keep in contact the handset will automatically crank up the output power until it reaches the maximum level. This obviously draws more power from the battery and flattens the battery quicker, but it also means that the handset ends up pumping out the highest possible level of radiation which increases the risk of interference.

      1. Further to this last point about the power increasing as the signal weakens. If an airliner puts a cellphone base station within the aircraft and allows people to make calls, one effect is that the cellphones that are logged into that base station will drop back to a very low power mode, so will be less likely to cause interference.

        Ironically, it could be safer to provide equipment to facilitate passengers making calls while airborne rather than to ban it and have people making illicit calls with handsets cranked up to maximum power.

        1. Texting and internet access is fine. The LAST thing you need in an aircraft “torture tube” is assorted MORONS verbally talking to their assorted consorts about their personal mundane CRAP…….
          There are enough problems inside the cabin with drunks, divas, azzzCLOWNS, blowhards, and “seatback” offenders……..

          Thanks for playing…….!?

      2. “I doubt that the airlines give a damn about the charge left on your battery…”

        lol – of course they don’t care. But they aren’t the issue. If you’re trying to influence people to do want you want – the issue is the people. What do they give a damn about?

        The idea that their actions could potentially cause the plane to crash doesn’t seem to be enough to motivate most people.

        But tell them that it’ll drain the batteries, and you’ll probably get more of them to switch their phones to ‘airplane mode’ during the flight.

  3. I’m an accident analyst with real-world experience in this area. Most airlines are using older and older airplanes with WAY too many lifetime takeoffs and landings and the associated mechanical stresses.

    ALL the personal device interference testing was done on new, pristine airplanes. As takeoffs, landings, and in-flight turbulence flex the airframes the shielding for critical flight instrument wiring develops cracks and joints start opening up. This allows RF from personal devices to interfere with the flight instruments.

    Yes, there has never been a verified crash due to this, but there have been many, many verified cases of flight instrument interference. Some pilots have even had the interfering device turned off and on over and over to prove that the interference is caused by the device.

    The FAA has so far ignored this stressed shielding risk. Anyone who risks the lives of everyone on board an aircraft just to call or send text or email messages during takeoff or landing is an uninformed IDIOT!

    1. As a photographer, you must have extensive training on lenses, f-stops, exposure settings and the like. When you go out to photograph an accident, you must pick up a few things that you overhear from the experts who usually have a degree in engineering or have a lot of experience as a commercial or military pilot. I would bet that you have an idea of the names of many of the parts of a plane like ‘wings’ and stuff, right?

    2. “This allows RF from personal devices to interfere with the flight instruments.” – pbiphoto (uninformed IDIOT).

      It appears that you have exposed the depth of your ‘knowledge” and are unaware that the cracks you speak of would have to be at least a 1/4 of the wave length of the frequencies of interest to even start to enter the cabin and then they would have to pass through the radio cases and/or the antenna cable’s shielding. Normally if a crack that large appeared on an aircraft it would be at the point of impact.

  4. I’d love to see a Reminder feature added to AirPlane Mode. It would remind you to turn it back “On” when leaving the airplane or theatre. After forgetting to activate it too many times (and friends complaining they couldn’t reach me), I’ve fussed with setting my own reminder. It would be far better to have that option be part of the Settings. Apple? Anybody?

  5. Phones can be used for command, control and communications. Maybe they do not want people using devices that can do those things…communicating secretly with other people on the plane, controlling unknown devices, etc.

  6. Debate will go on for the next millennia. However, I can tell you from personal experience that electronic devices can cause interference. As a flight attendant, I was contacted by the captain saying something was on and interfering with the instruments. We landed safely due to the pilots expertise. Later we found the offending device in a seat back pocket. It was a Bluetooth headpiece left on.

    It may not happen on every flight. Or on all aircraft types. BUT, IT CAN HAPPEN!

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