Do You Bother Putting Your Phone into Airplane Mode When the Doors Close?

A little over three years ago the ban on using personal electronics below 10,000 feet was lifted.

Almost everyone at some point mistakenly either left their phone on in their bag, or had some electronics turn on during the flight which they only realized later. And no Really. Bad. Things. happened. Nor did problems arise when pilots used tablets in the cockpit, either. The notion that $100 million equipment could be brought down by an iPod, or by 100 iPods, was the subject of ridicule.

Now passengers can use their phones or tablets with the door closed, during taxi, and takeoff. But devices are supposed to be in airplane mode.

Do You Bother Putting Your Phone into Airplane Mode

When the rules first changed, flight attendants would sometimes come around looking. If they saw you typing away they thought you might be connected, rather than just writing messages to send later.

I don’t remember exactly the last time I saw a flight attendant even look askance at anyone, although I’ve seen it happen. Most passengers around me keep their signals on at least until takeoff (and turn signals back on during descent).

Crew don’t care it seems — until they care, last year one Flybe passenger was fined for disobeying crew instructions to turn off his phone or put it into airplane mode.

The only time it seems like electronics are a big deal is when the pilot is going to be making an ILS approach on landing. The captain will announce that all electronics need to be turned off and not just placed into airplane mode.

In my non-expert understanding in an instrument landing system approach you’ve got localizer and glidescope signals being broadcast and when the aircraft is aligned with the runway it should receive them at equal strength — the localizer left and right, and the glidescope above and below.

Your iPad isn’t going to cause a problem, but it’s easier and cleaner to say all electronics off in case there’s some electronic device emitting a frequency that it shouldn’t be which could interfere either because the device wasn’t well-manufactured or isn’t working properly. Highly unlikely that onboard devices will be doing this at the frequencies needed for the ILS approach, and of course just because the captain makes an announcement doesn’t mean passengers conform. But it’s one case where electronics aren’t permitted during landing.

Outside of an ILS approach, roughly speaking it seems it’s now fine to keep using your devices except on Chinese airlines, but once you’re asked individually to switch into airplane mode you really really need to do that!

Question: Do you turn your devices to airplane mode once the door closes? Or do you stay online during pushback through takeoff?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Airplane mode as instructed. You pretty much have it right, avionics and radio receivers will have their performance degraded by electronic noise sources.

    PhD EE, CSEP, Licensed Amateur Radio Operator, and (former) Private Pilot

  2. I am not a big user of the phone during flights. Rather than just airplane mode, I switch it off compketely, mainly to conserve battery power which I’ll need immediately upon landing.

  3. I put my phone in ultra power saving mode and then switch it to airplane mode. Essentially the same as powering off as far as battery consumption is concerned, but saves me the minute or so of boot up time afterwards.

  4. I was on an AA flight Thursday where several passengers not only disregarded the FA’s but kept actually talking on the phone during taxi. The FA’s had to yell at them to put the phones into flight mode. It was really unpleasant. It was also rude of those that just disregard this simple instruction. Is it really so hard to just follow the rules on such a basic level. If there is a 1 in a Billion chance it’s worth putting it into airplane mode. That’s actually why the phones have, well, an “airplane” mode.

  5. I dislike the arrogance of those who feel free to disobey rules they find inconvenient. If you don’t like the rule, campaign to have it repealed: don’t ignore it just because others do and, whilst you know little of radio frequency interference, you think it’s probably ok.

  6. There’s some out of band broad spectrum noise, particularly from anything frequency division multiplexing like GSM (you’ll notice the static it on car speakers during at start of a time slice). There’s also the remote possibly an errant phone does something worse. The biggest reason probably isn’t the avionics though — it also wreak havoc on the cell switching nodes on land (instead of seeing a few towers, the phone sees several).

    It’s not particularly great logic that it’s OK to do something because no incidencts have occurred. You can eat off dirty plates and probably won’t get sick too, but why introduce the risk

  7. In reality, I only put my phone in airplane mode in order to save battery. For 6 years I worked in surgery where we made all patients and visitors turn off their cell phones while all the staff kept theirs on. We had no idea why we made people turn off their phones!

  8. I turn mine off completely. Last time I left it on, it freaked out trying to figure out what time zone I was in. I usually don’t turn it on again until I reach my hotel. My partner leaves his on, and is always charged an extra day on our plan, and has a terrible time getting it to recognize time zone/location. I do the same on return, turning it off on the way to the airport.

  9. I turn it off, mostly because I want to have as much battery left as possible once I get to the destination. I also find it very rude when people ignore the instructions.

  10. i send my wife a message once we start taking off, then put the plane on airplane mode until we land.

  11. I do put it in airplane mode; it saves the battery. Even though most seats have power points now, I still like to conserve the battery as much as possible.

  12. Just FYI, pretty much *every* airline flight in the US ends with an ILS approach. In the article you make it seem like it’s a rarity. When the weather is good, you don’t *need* an ILS approach, but all of the US carriers have policy that require that their pilots use it anyway.

  13. How many times has a pilot had to go around again on an ILS approach solely because of an ILS interference problem? Would like to see the stats on that.

  14. Once the pushback starts, it goes into airplane mode, and it comes out once we’re off the runway but still taxiiing . . . right when the flight attendant(s) say, “If your cellphone is within reach . . . ” The exception is if I am in a seat without a USB port to charge the phone. Then I shut it completely off. Either way, it’s good to be “unplugged” — even if only for the time it takes to fly from SFO to LAX.

  15. I put my phone and tablet in airplane mode, but not because I’m worried about some interference issue. It’s because cellular radios don’t reliably work in flight.

    When I spent a lot of time on my company’s private jet, the pilots told me, in no uncertain terms, “it doesn’t matter to our systems at all”. I used that advice and regularly had conversations on both short final and takeoff.

  16. I don’t see any benefit to not turning on airplane mode during flight. If you’ve ever left it on, you know that there is no signal very shortly after takeoff, and because the signal is so bad, your phone is going to ramp up the radio power trying to lock in to a cell tower, which kills your battery. But it certainly isn’t a usable signal, either for calls or text, and especially not for data.

  17. The biggest downside I’ve personally experienced following the airplane mode rule was several years ago, when I left my iPad (in airplane mode) in a seat-back pocket. Had I ignored the airplane mode instruction, I could have tracked it via “Find My iPhone.” Instead, I was left to the mercy of United and LAX lost-and-found, which is as good as nothing even if caught within an hour (as I did).

    Obviously the bigger lesson is “don’t lose things.” But it sure would have been nice to find that $800 device.

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