Airplane mode is a setting on the devices we use most often these days, but we might not know its significance. For example, are the stories about cell phones crashing planes rooted in truth?
If you don’t turn on airplane mode, at the very least, your device will be a major annoyance for the flight crew. The higher the plane’s altitude, the more power a device uses to communicate with cell towers. This power usage causes a lot of feedback noise that can distract pilots and air traffic controllers.
Putting your device in airplane mode is an important safety measure. Even though your device is unlikely to cause a crash, it can make the pilots’ and air traffic controllers’ jobs much more difficult.
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What Really Happens If You Don’t Turn on Airplane Mode? Will the Plane Crash?
Many airline travelers have mistakenly believed that their phones interfere with the plane’s navigation equipment. However, you might be relieved to know that this isn’t the case.
Navigational systems on planes have been designed to withstand the threat of outside interference. There is a possibility that planes might interfere with navigational equipment, but no evidence of this has come to light.
A recommendation would come from the National Transportation Safety Board about devices on planes if there were that serious a threat. There have been no documented cases to date of electromagnetic interference causing plane crashes.
Will a Phone Cause a Crash?
There is less of a chance of your phone making the plane crash than there is the phone causing a significant headache for air traffic controllers and pilots. What is usually a low-power device on the ground will use a lot of power in the air.
The altitude where most planes fly is a greater distance from cellular towers than any ground location. Phones must use more power to reach these towers, easily using more energy than is required for a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signal.
What’s the Biggest Problem Your Phone Can Cause?
Phones that increase their power usage cause radio emissions. The problem with radio emissions is their impact on air traffic control and pilots’ audio systems.
One phone left on is unlikely to have too drastic an impact. However, if multiple passengers leave their devices on, this could cause a bigger problem.
The more interference there is from radio emissions, the more likely pilots are to become distracted. These distractions could cause pilot errors that create an emergency situation.
What Are the Consequences of Forgetting to Turn on Airplane Mode?
If you forget to turn on airplane mode, your device will try to connect to every cellular tower on the ground that the plane passes over. When you consider the number of cellular towers available now, that is a lot of activity.
One of the effects of your phone or tablet trying to communicate with the towers or stations is constant scanning in search of a signal. Scanning for a cellular signal uses so much power that your battery will drain very quickly.
If Phones Are a Problem, Why Are Calls Allowed on Some Flights?
You may have seen advertising promoting in-flight cellular calls from some carriers. However, this situation is an exception because it means that a cell station is onboard.
However, these in-flight cellular stations require phones to use relatively little power. In most cases, following the demand to turn on airplane mode will make everything easier for the crew.
Why is Wi-Fi Usage Permitted on Planes?
Satellite-based Wi-Fi Internet access has become standard on flights today. One of the top advantages of using Wi-Fi is that it doesn’t involve cellular connections at all.
Wi-Fi networks provided on flights allow passengers to browse the Internet, read and respond to emails, browse social media, and access streaming services. However, when in U.S. airspace, you cannot make voice calls.
Some airlines may offer different service tiers based on Internet usage. For example, passengers who want to use streaming services may be able to upgrade to a higher tier to get better speeds.
How Could In-Flight Cellular Access Chance in Coming Years?
The European Commission has allowed in-flight cellular service on planes flying within the E.U. for several years. Some airlines may only allow data and text, while others also allow calls.
For this technology to work, the plane must have a cellular base, technology to block onboard phones from connecting to land-based cellular stations, and a satellite link to connect to land-based phone networks. In addition to Europe, this technology has been deployed in other locations with success.
This type of technology is available in the U.S. but has yet to gain ground. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would need to adopt new rules allowing for these changes.
Although what happens if you don’t turn on airplane mode is not as dramatic as you might think, doing your part will do everyone a favor in the long run. Pilots, crew members, and air traffic controllers will appreciate your efforts.