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.



    The article ran by Giz was an opinion piece, which allows it to be totally biased and poorly presented or researched. In other words poor journalism.

    A quick search on the other side of the argument shows some evidence that PEDs can and have interfered with flights. This is one such article (there are many)

    What's interesting is that it cites research taken by NASA from first hand experiences from pilots. These pilots have reported instances of PEDs interfering with flight systems. There is one pilot who actually took the time to have ask for the PED to be turned off, then on then off again to verify that it was the PED that was causing the disruption.

    PEDs may not have made an airplane crash but can make the pilots life and job harder.

      Regardless of whether its declared an 'opinion' piece or not, an average user could take that as not being an 'opinion' but fact. While this is drawing a long bow, its not unheard of.

      Keep in mind that just because a piece is an 'opinion' and you are entitled TO that opinion, you are in a public forum and be still held legally (albeit indirectly) accountable for the information you provide. If you are advising to break a law (because you think its silly - I'm a Network Engineer that works with 2G/3G/4G radio equipment and the pilot does make a valid point) then you can be held accountable for that information.

    There is an even more complelling reason not to use your mobile on a plane. If you happen to be sitting next to me I will insert it into one of your orifices, probably not your mouth, as I would be busy slapping that at the same time.

      You receive a +1 and an up vote from me, now if only we can make the same excuse for not using a mobile phone on buses and trains.

        I've done important business deals on my mobile while on the bus. And I've also spoken with my missus who was going into labour, while on the tube. Fact is, what's more annoying in general? A person having a (hopfully) fairly quiet conversation on the phone on the bus/train which might affect 5 people or so in a minor way or someone chowing down on some stinking fried chicken which lingers in the carriage/bus for ages and affects loads of people? You can't ban either. Sometimes people really do need to eat while on public transport, and sometimes they really do need to take/make a call as well. It's a small price to pay. There are more serious things to be annoyed at when it comes to public transport, like the cost and lateness.

          What are you talking about? Every bus and train I've ever been on has banned food and drink.

      Like to see you try Steve :)

      Seriously, try and force your opinion on me or someone else, let's see how far you get hey?

    A registered pilot? Are you a commercial pilot? Do you fly jets?

    Everything I've ever read suggests aircraft instruments are wayyyy too shielded to receive feedback from a phone, let alone a phone held by a passenger 20 metres behind. If a phone that far away can cause feedback loud enough to confuse a pilot, I think there's bigger problems with the shielding of electronic equipment in the cockpit...

    Tell us anonymous pilot... what's your experience?

      so because of everything you've read, you resort to ad hominem arguments against an actual aviation worker? whilst there are a lot of reports that PEDs do interfere with aviation equipment, did you read those? or did you only pay attention to the ones supporting your bias?

      1. Equipment is located throughout the plane, not just in the cockpit.
      2. Not all planes are modern, carrying modern technology with modern shielding. Most planes are decades old.
      3. Even on modern planes, not all equipment is shielded. Equipment specifically designed to be sensitive to radio waves wouldn't work very well if it was shielded now, would it.

      If you're going to call out a pilot on his experience, would you care do elaborate on yours? Surely it's more than just 'I read a bunch of Facts(TM) on the interwebs'?

      "Everything I've ever read" vs An Actual Pilot

      You lose, buddy

        everything he "says" hes ever read Vs someone who "claims" to be an actual pilot.
        they both lose (IMO)
        this is the internet, anyone can claim to be, or know, anything.
        i'm a neurosurgeon btw.

      Well, you need to read the right things because this is exactly what one of my neighbours, a pilot for REX, has to say on the matter. And he is not some crusty old fuddy-duddy, he is 27 and currently on suspension for turning up to fly with a hang-over.

        Awesome advertisement for Regional Express right there.

        Small turboprop =/= 747

          So are you saying that they should have different rules for different aircraft? You don't see how that could be somewhat problematic?

    Interesting points, but I'm wondering why more pilots haven't said "Uh, it does interfere, listen to this shit" if there is interference? Surely somewhere along the line they would have worked out that the pilot is suddenly missing landings after they allowed mobiles to be turned on?

    Not saying it's wrong or lies, just legitimately wondering why more pilots haven't brought this up.

    EDIT: To be clear, I'm not one of those "NO, I must use my phone for those 10 minutes of take off and landing. It is extremely and incredibly necessary for me to do so!" people.

    Last edited 31/12/12 11:15 am

    Mobile phones I get. What about WiFi only devices or my girlfriend's iPod without any wireless connectivity at all? The blanket rule for all devices is what's frustrating as an airline passenger. I understand it's for the sake of caution as there's so many different devices out there but I personally think it's time for public and crew to be further educated on the matter so I can keep reading my damn Kobo while we're landing!

      It's about emergency response times. Did you hear about that plane that crashed in Russia on the weekend? Something went wrong with the landing and the plane overshot the runway, crashed into a fence at high speed. The normal human reaction to an emergency event while holding your kobo is to protect the device first - put it away - by the time you have done that you could be dead. If you were hanging onto it that poses another problem as you fumble around to exit the plane - you will need both hands free and every second counts.

      I don't care how many million times you have been on a plane when it has landed safely, that's good for you, but in that once in a lifetime event where you are involved in a plane crash and survive, how will you feel if 2 more people are dead because you held up the evacuation? At least you'll still have your kobo, right?

      Last edited 31/12/12 2:07 pm

    I will say this I have no issue with not using my phone on a plane. What I DO have an issue with is that my phone (which is in airplane mode) "apparently" can still interfere the plane while i'm listening to music, and therefore MUST turn it off for takeoff and landing.

    Why the F*@k isn't everything on a plane electrically shielded? Seriously... a plane costs how many millions dollars and they can't protect it from electrical noise from an MP3 player? Are they afraid that they might get a dose of Muse's new album or something. The only area that aren't likely to be like this are the aerials use to communicate, and those are on the outside of the plane (on the other side of the shielding).

    While I agree with the pilots on hearing noise can mean one thing, the airlines should be held responsible and should give them the right tools to do their job safely, just like other workers be it construction, office, etc, etc.

    Airlines, do some research and publish it as to why this isn't the case!

      If your listening to music you can't hear instructions from the pilot or flight crews if something goes wrong. These things happen in seconds, and the few seconds (minimum) it takes you to realise something is wrong could mean you've lost the ability to hear the instructions everyone else is now following. More importantly it could cost you your life.

      You know why you still have to turn it off completely? Because of the thousands of wankers who say "hurr durr it's in airplane mode" while they're texting away. These people who don't give a shit about anyone else's safety are the ones who have ruined it for others like you. So in the end, you'll just have to suck it up, I guess, and take one for the team.

      The economics of the airline industry mean that the designers of the airplane that you're sitting on never conceived that everyone inside would be using electronic devices. And you insist that the airlines must spend thousands of dollars per plane, reducing cargo and passenger-carrying capacity, so you can use your electronic devices for a couple of extra minutes? At a time when you should really be paying attention to the pilot, the plane, or your fellow passengers, just in case of emergency?

      Ok for starters important sensors are mounted right throughout the aircraft, the one that tells the pilot if the plane is going to stall and drop out of the sky is often mounted in the wings.

      Second, while your music is blaring away you can't hear the pilot's instructions or the crew's safety brief, in an emergency causing issues not only for yourself but also others seated in from the isle from you AND THE CREW TRYING TO SAVE YOUR ARSE!!!!

      Third. The Airlines are providing a safe workplace, and the tool they have to ensure safety during take-off and landing is the requirement that all electronic devices are turned off, No different to any other safety requirements in any other workplace.

      Why the F*@k isn't everything on a plane electrically shielded?

      Because radio communications. That's why.

      I'm afraid I'd get a dose of Muse's new album - that shet be scary.

    Just as an aside, isn't it prohibitively expensive to use your mobile on a plane.. ? I don't know one way or the other, but I do shut mine off and leave it that way on a plane.

      Not while you're still connected to towers in your own country, presumably!

    I'm also a pilot and I'm fairly sure this guy has no idea what he's talking about. I've never had any 2G interference over a VHF or UHF radio, either audio or ILS functionality wise. It's technically possible but practically I've never seen it even with a switched on mobile phone in my pocket and even whilst using a mobile phone in the cockpit (obviously with the copilot on the controls) and I've flown quite a variety of different airframes, both fixed and rotary wing, civil and military. By 'audio tones' I assume the poster is referring to the morse code identifiers that are broadcast by navigational aids to let you know that you're tuned to the correct one. I guess these do sound vaguely similar but even if you were hearing mobile phone interference noises you'd have to be pretty stupid to confuse the two.

      I have to agree with you that the person in the article has absolutely no freaking idea of what he is talking about, but he is good at cut n paste from other sources...

      While I'm absolutely not a pilot, i must disagree with you about mobile interference and UHF radio (cant say for VHF tho). I worked with the local council for a number of years, the vehicles and bases of which had UHF radio for communications. If some one where sitting in the cab of the truck either using a mobile phone, or even if the phone in the cab was pinging the nearest tower, it would send a deafening squawk of interference across the UHF radio.
      it was worse at the more powerful base stations, where a phone within 2 metres of the unit would cause the same. This happened with 2G and 3G phones, I left the job before NextG became common so I dont know if that had a similar effect.

      As I said, not a pilot, and have no idea whether planes suffer from the same signal leakage, just saying that ground UHF radios of modest capability (council's units had a range of approx 50Km) most certainly did suffer interference from mobile phones.

      As a pilot also, I agree that I have never had interference from 3G iPhone over VHF or UHF, and have used my phone in the plane over my Bose A20's via Bluetooth, for example to get the latest Aviation Weather Information Service (AWIS) at aerodromes where it is not provided over the radio, and also used it for texting loved ones to know where we are at with our flight progress. Not once have I had interference.

      Anyway, off to preflight the plane for some aerobatics before the years end.

      Did you have 300 mobile phones in your pocket, or distributed along the length of your wiring from nose to tail?

      I'm an Electronic Engineer who works on an old passenger jet converted for research use. I have a background in design for Electro-Magnetic Compatibility and was sceptical about the dangers of interference from mobile phones to safety-critical components on the aircraft. However, I had a conversation with one of our pilots about this who said the exact same thing as the Pilot in the article. May just be a problem on old aircraft with analogue systems. We're all on headsets and can certainly hear the distinctive chirp of a mobile over the aircraft intercom if someone has left one on.

    Even disregarding the technical reasons, try this hypothetical ...

    1. catch public transport ot try to walk through a public space without some izombie dawdling into your path, updating their fakebork status to "ERMAHGERD, TOTES ROCKIN THESE SHOES. LOL !!!"

    2. now imagine there's an emergency on an aircraft and you need to leave quickly ... and there's a clot of izombies in the doorway, heads down, thumbs up, ""ERMAHGERD, PLAIN BROKED. TOTES PISSED. LOL !!!", "VERGIN SUX, FLYING TIGAH NXT TYM. LOL !!!"

    Using normal consumer personal electronics on an aircraft is perfectly safe.

      I tried using my normal consumer personal microwave - battery powered on a flight to charge my normal consumer mobile phone battery and look what happened:
      I got the idea from a google search that I did on the phone during takeoff.

        Oh wow... you're the bing user.

          Yeah, I search for obscure machinery models at work and bing gives me relevant results. For one search I got 4 relevant results from bing and 100,000 results from Google and none of the first few page results were relevant. After that I tested both for quite a while and Bing was better so I've switched. Moral of the story - if you Google machinery try bing instead!

          oh right, you're too cool for bing. Got it

    Using your mobile phone causes interference to the me enjoying some peace and quiet.

    He probably shouldn't be threatening freedom of speech like this.

    Also gizmodo, if you want to include a citation that contains spelling errors, you should write "which clearly insights violence [sic]"

    On a commercial flight the pilot kept asking for mobile devices to be turned off. Eventually the stewardesses walked up and down and found "the one" that was on and asked for it to be turned off and then all was okay. That pilot must have been getting crazy interference from that thing. I'm not saying that I know any of the details - perhaps that one phone was defective and was putting off some crazy interference??

      Damn right, it's not the crazy interference the pilot needs to worry about, it's the asswhooping the asshole's about to get for refusing to follow basic instructions which EVERYONE ELSE is complying with.

    "Your local pilot" is full of crap! I am a licensed pilot, not a "registered" pilot, whatever that may mean. I carry a mobile phone with me whenever I fly and it is switched on, so I can make calls at need and receive calls at need. I have never experienced any issue of any kind with this. Further, a number of airlines including Australian airlines have issued their pilots with iPads and iPhones and these are switched on throughout flight. No issues have been reported, no aeroplanes have fallen out of the sky, no-one has reported anything other than an improvement in facilities.

    I have been flying for a very long time now and the only navigation instruments that I can recall that required sounds were a very old navigation system which produced a high pitched sound if you were one side of track and a low pitched sound if you were the other side. The other was Morse code which was required to identify certain kinds of navigation beacons (ADF) but since the codes are now printed on charts it is no longer necessary for pilots to learn Morse code.

      All pilots in Australia are required to be registered with CASA via an AVID at minimum, in addition to your license. That might be what he was referring to, but it's semantics really. Licensing is a form of registration.

      Last edited 31/12/12 4:31 pm

        Sure, you had a mobile in your pocket. Now have four hundred mobiles, of varying frequencies and broadcast strengths all blasting away in your cabin and it might mean something.

      Good to know!

      Now if your a commercial pilot please let me know which flights you normally fly so that i can make sure i never ever get on your flights!

      Cheers! :D

    all i can say is if a phone can bring a plane down why are the military using expensive weapons to shoot them down?

      They ran into trouble trying to figure out how to smuggle 300+mobiles on enemy planes only to have them crash 1% of the time... Sucks to be in the 1% though

        on looking at my comment i guess they do use them to take down planes, usually they are strapped to C4... RING RING!

    All passengers must turn off any electronic equipment however the plane can still run foxtel and in flight entertainment.....go figure. The REAL reason you are asked to turn it off is in case of emergency - they don't want you contacting anyone before they do! Media quality control!

      Considering satellite TV is completely passive, receive-only, absolutely not the same thing.

      Not even close.

    In-flight entertainment is turned off during take off and landing.

    The thing I don't get out of all of this is why people rage so passionately in favour of being able to use their devices. I don't care what your internet "studies" show, it's the rules. Deal with it. Be a grown-up. Act your age. Sometimes the rules *are* wrong, like getting booked for jay-walking when there is no traffic whatsoever. But guess what? It's the law. Sometimes you have to follow rules whether you like it or not. You are not so special, little snowflake.

      not to mention, takeoff and landing are the most dangerous parts of the flight, so you need to be aware of your surroundings in case of an emergency.

    Seems to me if it was so dangerous they wouldn't just ask people to turn them off and hope on the honor system that the plane isn't going to crash and burn because someone didn't listen, didn't properly get the device turned all the way off, or thought airplane mode was safe enough.

    Also, don't you think with hundreds of people on thousands of flights daily that there are at least a handful of people per flight that keep their electronics/phones on or in standby/airplane mode and that we don't see any plague of issues or crashes because of them? Antiquated rules and misinformation is all it is.

    if it was actually a problem, no-one would be allowed to physically carry the devices on the plane.

    Well the aircraft manufacturer says no.

      This entire article and all the comments could be replaced by this one URL. Thank you.

      Now everyone can kindly STFU. Private service, their rules. Don't like them? Don't fly. Simple.

      So many holier than thou douchebags. Get over yourselves.

    I don't claim to be a pilot, or an expert, however I have an interest.
    There are three reasons that instantly come to mind why electronic devices shouldn't be used during take off and landing.
    1) You need to pay attention - Landing and takeoff are the most dangerous parts of a flight and you need to be aware of your situation so that you can respond to dangers and instructions given by the crew. You also need to hear the safety briefing. It doesn't matter if you have heard it all before. Repetition builds memory, and memory is what you need when you need to act quickly.
    2) Imagine you are travelling along the runway at 250km/h and the captain has to abort the take off. The person behind you has a loose grip on their kindle? You get a kindle to the back of the head. Even something small can cause a lot of damage if travelling fast enough. And yes, technically this means that people shouldn't be reading books either.
    3) There are thousands of planes out there. They are different ages and types. There are thousands of different types of phones out there. They are different ages and types. One plane might have some loose shielding on some cabling. One phone has a fault that makes it broadcast incorrectly. The autopilot gets sent incorrect information and runs the plane into a mountain. It is a small risk, but I'm sure you wouldn't want to be on the flight it happens to.

    Just deal with it. Do what I do, relax, look out the window, read the safety card, flip through the magazine with some B-grade celeb on the cover. It's 20 minutes in your day where you can sit and chill. No work email, so stress, just looking over the world at 15,000ft.

      are you retarded? learn some basic physics, if a plane is travelling at 250KMPH it doesn't mean the object you are holding is going to come racing from your hands at that speed.

        Are you retarded? Before spouting crap at other people, I suggest you actually do your own research, and spot misquoting. Pyta didn't say it would be travelling at 250km/h, instead they said it would be moving fast. Which it would. If the kindle is in a passengers hands, the aircraft, seat, person and kindle will all be moving at the same speed. If you decelerate rapidly and let go of the kindle, it absolutely will be traveling at 250km/h. Just the relative speed will be lower, but still significant. It will hit you in the back of the head at whatever the speed the aircraft has decelerated by.

    YES!! Great write up, "local pilot" . You made my new year. I love how jackasses with no experience and topic knowledge love to talk shit and i love it even more when knowledgable people put them in their place. :-)

    This guy/girl is most definitely not a pilot!! What the hell is a registered pilot I might ask?! No one, not one single pilot would ever refer to themselves as a 'registered pilot'. It's not a standard term in the industry, and you would never introduce yourself as one. You would introduce yourself as either an Air Transport Pilot, a Commercial Pilot, or a Private Pilot. How can anyone take this garbage seriously? Are we meant to believe that this person is a genuine pilot simply because he references one or two high-tech systems eg. the ILS, etc? Anyone can look this up on Google. Finally, for what it's worth, I carry my mobile phone on all flights, turned on, and I am expected to use it in some scenarios. Delete this stupid article and stop giving us guys a bad name.

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