Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why don't airlines allow cell phone use when aircraft door is closed?

If you really want to see a friendly flight attendant go from nice to crabby, just keep your cell phone on  and ignore them when the "Please turn off all electronic devices" public announcement is made.  This will ensure a different creature comes out, but why?

Flight Attendants have to make sure that the aircraft cabin is ready for departure. Before they can inform the Captain that it's ready, all regulations that the airline must follow per the Federal Aviation Administration need to be in place, which brings us to Portable Electronic Devices.

Per FAA Title 14, Part 91.21, and Part 121.306,"Portable Electronic Devices" "no person may operate, nor may any operator or pilot in command of an aircraft allow the operation of, any portable electronic device on any of the following U.S.-registered civil aircraft:
(1) Aircraft operated by a holder of an air carrier operating certificate or an operating certificate; or
(2) Any other aircraft while it is operated under IFR"
But the question remains, why do flight attendants get so frustrated, mad, or go 'postal' (for lack of a better word) when a passenger ignores them when asked to turn off the device? It's quite simple; If the passenger can't follow a simple rule while on the ground, then what's going to happen once they are in the air?  Can't you just turn off your device for 10-30 minutes until it's ok to turn on your device back on? did a great article back in February asking this same question. Why Can't we use Cell Phones on Planes? by KI MAE HEUSSNER. The article highlights that "contrary to what most passengers think, it's the FCC – not the FAA – that implemented the cell phone ban in the first place".  The article goes on describing "That before an airline could allow cell phone use in-flight, it would have to prove to the FAA that it wouldn't interfere with the airplane systems." But the FAA says the point is moot.

"As far as the wireless system goes, the final authority rests with the FCC," Les Dorr, an FAA spokesman told Since 1991, the FCC has banned the use of cell phones on airplanes because of potential interference with ground networks.

20/20 did an interview to see if Cell Phones are Dangerous in Flight: Myth of Fact. Whether it's proven that there is little to no interference from one cell phone, or one electronic device, why take the risk into your own hands? Even though there isn't proof that a cell phone can bring down a plane, until the FAA and the FCC say using cell phones in flight is safe, it's probably best to just keep those gadgets off.

There is also a good video back in 2006 about Phone Safety in the Sky with Scott McCartney who writes "The Middle Seat" column with the Wall Street Journal.

What about the use of internet on board? The Internet In-Flight is new technology that is being added to planes like wild fire. It's amazing how fast airlines are adapting to the new technology, but the planes are outfitted with a system, which includes three antennas outside the plane to receive signals transmitted by AirCell cellular towers across the country.

Legit did a great article on their website about "GoGo inflight internet speed which they tested during a flight. While traveling at speeds over 500mph, Legit reported the service was "not as good as what we see at home on our Charter Cable Plus (10 Mb/s) service, but not bad for being the first generation of Wi-Fi service in an airplane."

The biggest difference between these two is cell phones continuously search for a tower. As of right now, planes do not have any antenna's for such use, so it's great to not have to listen to that business person screaming to finalize his/her deal. This way, they can do it quietly on the internet!

It's always better to turn off your device for those few minutes. One, no matter if it's your first time flying, or your 2millionth, it's always best to stop what you are doing, and watch the flight attendants do their safety demo, (or watch the video). That safety announcement is 100x more important than that text on your phone.  Remember, it was less than 6minutes after take-off when USAirways flight 1549 had to ditch into the Hudson back in January.

Just remember to follow your flight attendants instructions though. Per FAA title 14, Part 91.11: "No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated" An incident report may be filed with the appropriate federal agency if you do. The Federal Aviation Act provides for fines of up to $10,000. In the case of interference with a crew member in the performance of crew duties, imprisonment for up to twenty years may be imposed in addition to the fine.