Remember that every time you are on a flight, shortly before takeoff, the crew asks you to activate the airplane mode of your mobile and electronic devices, and even turn off the larger ones during takeoff and landing. You do not question it, you do it without hesitation, but what would happen if you did not?
Would you interfere in the operating system of the flight? Could you cause an accident? These are questions that have a simple answer: No. And yet, a large part of the airlines obliges us to do so. And they have a compelling reason for this.
Over the years, little by little the organizations have become more permissive about the use of mobile phones on the plane. This is the case of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) or the European Commission that allowed flying without activating airplane mode in 2014.
Another thing is what the airlines say, and that’s where things get complicated because they are the ones with the last word on board the aircraft. Their decision is usually not matched with that of EASA, so in most cases, they still force us to activate it on all flights.
In fact, to make it a reality, EASA demanded a series of adaptations of the ships, as well as an evaluation that would guarantee the safety of the area. Today some companies like Virgin Atlantic, British Airways or Emirates already offer WiFi connection to their customers, while others airlines continue to demand that we activate the airplane mode every time we get on their aircraft.
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In 2016, it was announced that companies such as Vueling or Iberia would integrate Gogo technology to incorporate WiFi into their flights, but the reality is that, today, only Iberia offers this possibility on its intercontinental flights at nine euros per hour. Meanwhile, Vueling has announced that its aircraft will have WiFi throughout 2019.
And if we do not activate airplane mode?
As we said before, activating airplane mode is mandatory for a large part of the airlines, there is no doubt about that. But it may be that more than once while you activate it, you have asked yourself if you can really alter the communications of the ship and cause an accident.
The reality is that it is not like that. Having the phone connected does not interfere either in the electrical systems or in the telecommunications of an airplane. In other words, the signal issued by a mobile phone on and connected does not interfere with the operating system of a flight to the point of causing an accident.
So why are we forced to activate it?
Basically, to facilitate a clear communication between the flight crew and the air traffic controllers, that is not interfered at any time by the signal of our mobiles.
Different pilots have argued that using the mobile during a flight does not cause any interference with the plane
This has been endorsed in recent years by Patrick Smith, a pilot and one of the best known civil aviation experts from around the world, on the blog Ask the pilot, where the book Cockpit confidential was born. Along with him, it is also common to see pilots like Nikita Schmidt on the Quora platform or Reddit threads in which the same idea is implied.
If they were used in mid-flight, the phones would generate a noise similar to a buzz that can reach the 8W that would be perceived by pilots and air traffic controllers. This sound is not dangerous, but it is very annoying, similar to the sound that occurs when a microphone is brought close to a speaker. If listening to that sound is unpleasant, imagine the volume generated if all the passengers on the plane decided to skip the norm at the same time.
Using the mobile phone in mid-flight would cause a buzz that would make communication between the pilot and air traffic controllers difficult.
Therefore, this sound would not cause any accidents but it would complicate the communication between the crew and the control tower. The curious? Many times it is the crew members themselves who ignore this rule and even deny it when they have been asked in mid-flight, as stated in the Quora thread by engineer Coenraad Loubser.
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In the same sense, different manufacturers and operators have said that the use of mobile phones does not affect commercial flights and that the development of technology makes this prohibition a thing of the past. In fact, to reinforce this thesis is based on the fact that when reaching altitude, mobiles can not establish a connection either through data or WiFi network, so they could hardly interfere in the development of the flight.
But, beyond the security of the flight itself, allowing the Internet connection and even voice calls would lead to a new problem: the inconvenience that can be heard listening to the flight partner’s mobile phone during the entire trip. How many times have we complained about the traveler who talks very loudly on the bus or the subway? Well imagine the same but on a flight of several hours.
And, above all, remember: most airlines continue to force us to activate airplane mode on flights, so you have no choice but to wait to touch the ground to return to the connected world.