Here's the real reason to turn on airplane mode when you're flying

Here’s the real reason to turn on airplane mode when you’re flying

We all know the rule by heart: “Please make sure your seats are upright, tables are tucked away, window shades are up, laptops are on high shelves, and electronic devices are in flight mode.”

So the first four are reasonable, right? The curtains on the windows must be pulled up so that we can see if there is an emergency, such as a fire. Tray tables should be cleared and seats should be upright so we can get out of the row quickly. Laptops can become projectiles in an emergency, as the seat back pockets aren’t strong enough to hold them.

And mobile phones must be put into airplane mode so they can’t cause Airplane emergency, right? Well, it depends who you ask.

Technology has advanced a lot

Aviation navigation and communications have been dependent on radio services, which have been coordinated to minimize interference since the 1920s.

The digital technology currently in use is much more advanced than some of the older analog technology we used even 60 years ago. Studies have shown that personal electronic devices can emit a signal in the same frequency band as on-board communication and navigation systems, creating so-called electromagnetic interference.

But in 1992, the US Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing, in an independent study, studied the use of electronic devices to combat aircraft interference and found no problems with computers or other personal electronic devices during non-critical phases of flight. (Takes and landings are considered critical.)

The US Federal Communications Commission has also begun creating reserved frequency bands for various purposes such as mobile phones, aviation navigation and communications so that they do not interfere with each other. Governments around the world have developed the same strategies and policies to prevent aircraft interference problems. In the EU, electronic devices have been allowed to remain on since 2014.

Read more: It’s safe to use your phone on an airplane, but you still can’t make calls

2.2 billion passengers

Why then, when these global standards are in place, does the aviation industry continue to ban the use of mobile phones? One of the problems is that you might not expect – Earth intervention.

Wireless networks are connected by a series of towers; networks can be congested if all passengers flying over these terrestrial networks use their phones. The number of passengers who flew in 2021 amounted to more than 2.2 billion people, and this is half of the number of passengers in 2019. The wireless companies may be right here.

Of course, when it comes to mobile networks, the biggest change in recent years is the transition to a new standard. Existing 5G wireless networks, desirable due to higher data rates, are a concern for many in the aviation industry.

RF bandwidth is limited, but we are still trying to add more devices to it. The aviation industry notes that 5G wireless network bandwidth spectrum is very close to aviation’s reserved bandwidth spectrum, which can cause interference to navigation systems near airports that help aircraft land.

Airport operators in Australia and the US have raised safety concerns with 5G implementation, but there appear to be no such concerns in the European Union. In any case, it is wise to limit the use of mobile phones on airplanes while issues related to 5G are resolved.

Read more: Can 5G really ground planes? Why the United States has delayed the introduction of mobile Internet technology at airports

In the end we can’t forget the air rage

Most airlines currently provide pay-as-you-go or free Wi-Fi services to customers. With new Wi-Fi technologies, passengers could theoretically use their mobile phones to make video calls with friends or clients in flight.

On a recent flight, I spoke to a flight attendant and asked her opinion about using your phone while flying. It would be inconvenient for flight attendants to wait for passengers to finish their conversation to ask them if they would like some drinks or something to eat, she said. On an airliner with more than 200 passengers, in-flight service would take longer if everyone was on the phone.

For me, the issue with using phones on an in-flight has more to do with the social experience of having over 200 people on the plane, all of them potentially talking at the same time. At a time when aggressive passenger behavior, including “air rage”, is becoming more frequent, in-flight phone use could be another trigger that will change the entire flight experience.

Destructive behavior takes many forms, from non-compliance with safety requirements such as not wearing seat belts, verbal altercations with other passengers and flight attendants, to physical altercations with passengers and flight attendants, which are commonly defined as air rage.

In conclusion, the use of phones in flight currently does not affect the ability to operate the aircraft. But flight attendants may prefer not to delay serving all the passengers in flight – there are a lot of people to serve.

However, 5G technology is invading the radio frequency band of aviation navigation systems; we need more research to answer the 5G question about interference with aircraft navigation during landing. Remember that when we discuss the two most important phases of a flight, takeoffs are optional and landings are mandatory.

Read more: Reducing air travel by small amounts each year could mitigate climate impact

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