Counterpoint: Why Using Phones On Planes Is Still Stupid

A few weeks ago, we ran this post asking if we could actually use our phones on planes safely now. It seemed like common sense at the time, but let’s hear a counterpoint from a real-life pilot who explains why it’s still a stupid idea.

Our pilot, who prefers to remain anonymous, wrote in with this to say:

Firstly I would like to say that all of the bellow is based on first person experiences as I am registered Pilot in Australia.

I quite enjoy reading articles on your website Gizmodo however from time to time I find myself reading articles such as the one mentioned which not only frustrate but infuriate me. Whilst it may be true that many countries in the world no longer require that passengers deactivate their electronic devices during take off and landing I am led to believe that some pilots in those countries still request that this happens.

Why would a Pilot request something of the passengers that is not required? From my experience when a passenger has had a mobile phone turned on during flight (especially during the most critical stages of flight, i.e. takeoff and landing) the phone can interfere with the communications system on the aircraft and also with some of the instrumentation system used to approach a runway during poor weather conditions. Yet the article mentioned specifically sites studies which have shown that this is not the case. So why do I bring your attention to this?

There are some instruments in aircraft which still rely on the pilot to recognise audio “tones”. These tones are similar to that which you would hear through nearby speakers should a mobile phone be attempting to connect to an older 2G network. I am sure that would be familiar with this occurrence from having your phone next to the car radio? This interference can and does confuse pilots and requires extra thought process on the pilots behalf to identify, diagnose, solve, and act on the occurrence. During the critical stages of flight where a pilots workload is as much as 20 times that of conventional flight I am sure that you can understand this can consume much of the Pilot’s time. Should this take up too much of the pilots time and they cannot complete other checks before landing then it is most likely that the Pilot will be required to perform a “Go-Arround”. This is where the Pilot is required (when on final approach) to abort the landing, increase speed, climb to a safe altitude , and re-attempt the landing. This action on a commercial flight can cost the airline anywhere from $5000 to $20,000 (depending on the size and type of aircraft), all because your journalist decided to be a “rebel” and prove a point.

It is safe to say that I have not outlined all of the reasons to which I disagree with this article, including things such as passenger response times in emergency situations, and the sensitivity of the ILS equipments, and not to mention “Aviation Law” (to which I would like to point out that the relevant authorities can arrest, detain, fine, and create a criminal record for your journalist just because of this one article).

As the editor I would assume that you would have more sense than to let one of your journalists post an article which clearly insights rebellion against laws that are designed for safety.


Your local Pilot.

Still thinking about using your phone on a plane? Thanks for writing in, Pilot.