You Won’t Have to Go to Jail for Using Your Smartphone in Airplane Mode on Chinese Airlines

Chinese civil aviation regulations forbid the use of mobile phones inflight – even in airplane mode – but they do not forbid the use of tablets.

I know this but out of habit had my phone out and was scolded for it by a flight attendant on China Eastern last year. I was perplexed for a moment, trying to explain that the phone was in airplane mode. She didn’t understand, and then I remembered. I guess I got lucky, of course I was flying to Colombo (on a flight that continued to Kunming, but I was getting off before reaching China).

Last year Air China suspended a pilot who broadcasted his duties on social media because he violated the ban on inflight cell phone use.

In a single month earlier this year three passengers were jailed for their cell phone use on Chinese domestic flights. One was listening to music on their phone during takeoff and landing. Another passenger tried to make calls during their flight. And the third refused to turn off their phone when asked by a flight attendant.

These are rules which constantly seem on the verge of being repealed, but haven’t been to date. Fortunately that’s going to change. (HT: One Mile at a Time.

China’s aviation authority will relax its rules on using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets during flights, allowing individual airlines to decide on their own rules.

Each airline will still have to submit their plan to the government for approval, but there’s a process for doing that under new rules. There’s not yet a timeframe for when airlines will allow inflight use of small mobile devices, and airlines aren’t being required to allow it, but it’s expected that most will.

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. From a security standpoint, still wouldn’t use my mobile phone anywhere in China or for that matter on a Chinese airline no matter the origin or destination.

  2. That antiquated rule made no sense in this day and era when one’s phone is literally their camera, music player etc all in one. So glad they’re finally coming more to their senses.

    It’s bad enough on domestic flights when you’re literally forced to read the inflight magazine out of boredom.

  3. Last Sept while going from CTU-DLU I was watching some tv shows on my iPhone when a flight attendant told me No! Off! Judging by the look on her face, she looked very serious. Didn’t want to cause an issue so I shut it off while she watched. Pretty silly rule, glad to see it is being changed.

  4. In China, the issue is more a matter of enforcement. Knowing the average Chinese passenger will not take the 2 seconds to put a phone into airplane mode…it would be impossible to check which phones have it enabled.

    Therefore it is easier to have all phones turned off and see who is still using a phone.

    The airlines need to be strict because once other passengers see one person doing it and “getting away with it”…then they feel everybody should and it gets out of control.

    I just hope they don’t allow voice calls inflight…it’s noisy enough as it is.

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