There’s a reason all smartphones these days come with an ‘Airplane Mode’, and it’s a pretty darn good one. While different manufacturers and platforms name their flight mode differently, the fact still remains that enabling the mode when on an aircraft helps the pilots communicate with the ground crew and ATC (Air Traffic Control) without any radio interference, which is of paramount importance for obvious reasons. However, what is disappointing is that many amongst us choose to ignore advises and warnings from airlines and civil aviation safety authorities simply because these agencies haven’t always been forthcoming with the exact reasons as to why it is advisable to turn off any gadget that may interfere with critical communication for those in the cockpit.
One thing to note here is that the radio frequencies in use by phones as such do not interfere with an aircraft’s flight systems, meaning, commercial jetliners with hundreds of passengers on-board mercifully won’t start dropping from the sky every time somebody forgets to switch on the In-Flight Mode. However, it is simply good practice to do so because of multiple reasons. For one, in-flight usage of mobile devices is banned by law in many countries, including the U.S. It was back in 1991, in the early days of wireless telecommunication that the U.S. FCC had banned calls and texts from mobile handsets while in air. However, the one reason why everybody should try to follow instructions is because pilots often report distracting noise through their headsets every time any mobile device in the vicinity tries to communicate with cell towers down below.
Trying to describe how annoying such audible interference can be, one pilot likened it to the noise one gets to hear when placing a mobile phone next to a wireless speaker. According to the blog post on AirlineUpdates, “You’ve probably heard this interference yourself when a phone is set near a speaker. It sounds like a ‘dit-dit-dit-dit’ tone and it’s pretty annoying”. While some airlines have started installing ‘Picocell’ telecommunications base stations in their aircrafts so that passengers may continue to use their mobile devices in-flight without interfering with the pilots’ communications, such initiatives are still novel and have a long way to go before becoming mainstream.