“Ladies and gentlemen, please ensure that your seatbacks and tray tables are in their upright position, your window shades open and your seat belt is securely fastened. All portable electronic devices must be switched off and airplane mode may only be used when the fasten seat belt sign has been turned off. Thank you for your attention.”
If you’re a frequent flyer, you would’ve undoubtedly gotten this statement down pat. But the age-old question is: Why do you need to switch your phone to airplane mode on flights?
Better Safe Than Sorry
The simplest answer is a straightforward one: The local aviation authority has deemed it a requirement for all airlines entering or leaving their airspace.
Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with active smartphones and their signals potentially interfering with the plane’s onboard navigation systems. Yes, there is a small possibility of that happening, but that isn’t the real reason per se.
Depending on the country and association responsible, each “airplane mode” regulation may differ from one another. But the underlying reasoning boils down to safety, of course.
Take the USA for example, as the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) placed a ban on making voice calls onboard in the early 90s due to concerns that the radiofrequency emitted by phones could affect cell tower networks on the ground. This concern stems from the implication that phones could pick up service networks from multiple cell towers on the ground, even at 40,000 feet in the air — thus, causing overcrowded networks and disrupting services.
As for other aviation associations, similar reasonings are expected when it comes to mid-flight phone usage.