I flew to Washington D.C. last week for training on Environmental Justice (don’t be jealous) and it was only after my flight landed that I realized I had accidentally left my phone on the whole time, and not in airplane mode. And yet the plane didn’t crash. So what really happens when you don’t turn your phone off on a plane? That’s what Food and Wine magazine asked.
It turns out the reason for potential safety concerns is due to the fact that when you’re more than 10,000 feet in the air, your cell phone signal bounces off multiple towers and sends out a stronger signal. This could interfere with the networks that help the plane to navigate and function properly. While a phone left on has never actually caused a plane to crash it can make the pilot have to work harder when they take off and land.
With new technology though, it’s not as big of an issue as when cell phones first came out. In 2014, Europe’s version of the FAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, said electronic devices pose no safety risk, although it is up to the airline to prove their systems were not affected by the signals of cell phones. Many airlines have done through assessments and some actually allow in-flight calls to be made through onboard cellular network companies like AeroMobile and On Air.
Even so, the FAA still prohibits voice communications on cell phones. Some aviation industry officials say this is more due to public demand as passengers don’t want to listen to their seatmates talk to friends and family about their love lives, health issues and what they had for dinner.