Man using cellphone on plane

You board your flight, settle in, and pull out your cell phone to text your best friend that your flight is about to take off. Suddenly, you feel this overshadowing presence near your shoulder. You look up and it’s the flight attendant shaking her finger at you, telling you cell phone usage is not permitted during the flight. She then firmly voices to please turn your device off or place it in airplane mode. You look out your window and notice the plane has not left the tarmac. Scratching your head, you do as she’s asked wondering what all the fuss is about. Will leaving your cell phone on really create a problem for the flight?

While there has been some disbelief surrounding this question for many years as to whether leaving your cell phone on during a flight could create a serious problem for navigation instruments and pilots, there have also been reports that cell phones really can cause airplanes to crash, according to CNET. In fact, in 2019, Time reported that U.S. government officials revealed in 2014, an alarming safety risk is a factor due to mobile phones and other radio devices that could potentially crash some models of Boeing 737 and 777 airplanes while in flight. Time reports that the Federal Aviation Administration gave airlines with the vulnerable feature until November of 2019 to get them replaced. So why are we still turning off our phones?

The truth and the reality of cell phone usage in flight

Airplane flying over cell tower

According to Business Insider‘s investigative report in 2017, mobile phone usage in flight has never definitively been proven to have interfered with airplane navigation instruments. Instead, the request actually stems from an unlikely source — the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) regulations — and possibly, an unexpected reason. The FCC claims that they ban the use of cell phones on flights because thousands of cell phones turned on in the sky would disrupt radio communications towers on the ground, leading to overcrowded networks for everyone.

However, in 2013, the FCC considered lifting the ban on cell phone usage on flights, as reported by Bloomberg in November 2020. Instead, the FCC squashed that proposal, claiming there would be air rage amongst passengers if calls were permitted in flight — especially if you’re sitting next to someone that is overtly loud, or chatty on their phones — creating unnecessary chaos for crew members and pilots.

The law and your ethical obligation

Two women on flight

Just as using your cell phones while driving is against the law, disobeying a flight attendant’s request to power down your mobile device during a flight is as well, according to Find Law and their investigation regarding potential civil consequences imposed by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) — resulting in hefty fines, and possible imprisonment.

Given the sensitivity of the subject regarding the usage of mobile devices on airplanes, one has to consider if it’s worth the risk not powering down for the length of a flight. While interference with navigation devices may or may not occur, why take the chance?

Yes, people may grow tired of rules and regulations imposed by airline authorities and feel they have the right to be unruly, as reported by The Washington Post, but risking your life and the life of others for the sake of arguing or proving a point doesn’t win battles, it creates them. Instead, use that time on any flight to kick back, destress, unplug and enjoy the ride. Your mind and body will thank you for it.