Seasoned travelers are used to turning off cell phones when the airplane’s cabin door closes, and know they can't use the phones during the rest of the flight. Flight attendants walk down the aisles reminding the passengers to put their phones on airplane mode or use the in-flight wi-fi they have to pay for. But why is this a precautionary measure we have to take? The Federal Communications Commission bans mobile phone use during air travel because of the potential for ground network interference, as well as to appease passengers. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates the devices to avoid problems with navigation and communications systems. Contrary to belief, the FAA does allow for personal electronic devices during flights.

Aircraft Communications Interference

Many believe that electromagnetic interference is to blame for the ban on cellphone use on aircraft. According to the FAA, the emitted radio signals produced with antennas could interfere with the aircraft’s communications and navigational equipment. Any electronic device could potentially interfere, which is why you also have to turn off cellular phones, IPads, gaming equipment, and laptops during takeoff and landing. Cell phones are more troublesome because they transmit this electromagnetic energy that could be picked up by cell towers many miles away. The cell phone has a frequency that is different than airplane communications, but it is not guaranteed that the phone will stay on that frequency all the time.


Despite the ban, no concrete proof exists that cell phone use could pose a hazard in the air. Even though the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics has examined evidence since 2003, not enough research has been done to form a definitive conclusion. To be safe, the FCC continues its ban on cell phones. But, some passengers are still disobeying the rules, allowing their phone signals and the cellular network to go on throughout the flight. This furthers the point of it being hard to tell if flight mode is necessary after all. Companies like Boeing continue to try and solve this issue while working to improve avionic upgrades to their planes.

Cell Phone Tower Confusion

The FCC also bans cell phones because they could interfere with ground networks. When you are flying thousands of feet above cell phone towers and moving hundreds of miles per hour, the phone could try to link to many cell towers for a call. In essence, that confuses both the phone and the network. To compensate for the confusion, the phone emits a stronger signal, which increases the risk of wreaking havoc with the airplane’s equipment. The FAA, however, does allow for the in-flight use of wireless devices but only if it's made sure it won’t interfere with the navigation systems. Researchers have tried to find correlations between mobile phone use and problems with avionics. Another looked at if portable electronic devices like IPads, laptops and other gadgets spark a safety issue because they surpass the levels of emissions that are regulated on aircraft. To combat these issues, ultra-low power devices called picocells were created. Aircraft systems are starting to adapt their technology for their customers to experience this phone service.

Public Desire

Even if technical concerns were resolved, evidence exists that most of the public does not want cell phones on airplanes. In 2004, the FCC considered lifting the ban. However, airline travelers protested. While it's hard to avoid crying babies and turbulence, passengers have made it clear they would prefer to limit the noise attached to cell phones to zero. Flights are supposed to be a calm and easygoing experience, no one wants to listen to your conversation on a flight that disrupts this peace. Yet, the United States still has not matched regulations in places like Europe that have started to introduce the use of cell phones on commercial flights. On several European airlines, passengers are starting to be able to take cell phone calls, use apps like Whatsapp, and send text messages.

Many U.S. airlines such as Delta and American Airlines allow for the use of tablets and cell phones but they must be on airplane mode. No in-flight calls can be taken and the flight crew must be given the approval for when the device is ready to be used. Bluetooth can be used onair through headphones and other devices as well as long as the flight crew gives permission.