Why Can’t You Have Your Phone On During a Flight?

Why Can’t You Have Your Phone On During a Flight?

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Today’s question comes from Roz in Dubbo. Roz wants to know: Why can’t you have your phone on during a flight?

Good question, Roz! Let’s get to the bottom of it.

Why can’t you have your phone on during a flight?

Needing to have your phone switched off during a flight has largely been replaced by the ‘airplane mode’ setting found on most internet-connecting and cellular devices (like phones, tablets and laptops), but the need to do this is not particularly clear – beyond being told to do so before takeoff. So why do we do it?

The truth comes down to interference. Your phone uses a few different signals to operate – Bluetooth for short-range connections (like for headphones), cellular for calls, texts and mobile data use, Wi-Fi for connecting to routers to leverage established internet plans and GPS for location data. Aeroplane mode stops the transmitting of each of these individual signals, although you can individually reenable them (which you may want to do for Wi-Fi if your flight has a connection).

Not having aeroplane mode on can distract the pilot. As signal towers become out of reach, the phone emits stronger signals to try and reestablish a connection, according to Budget Air. As a result, the signal is picked up by the headphones of the pilot, which can ultimately be unsafe for everyone. Qantas adds that having aeroplane mode switched off may cause interference with the aircraft’s communication and navigation systems.

It’s also a legal requirement in some countries, in particular in the U.S., as outlined by USA Today. This said, while it’s not a legal requirement in Australia, you’re likely to be asked to switch on aeroplane mode before a flight anyway – because it’s for everyone’s safety.

Though what about in-flight Wi-Fi? Well, In-flight Wi-Fi doesn’t connect to the signals on the ground, instead using satellite signals, and as it’s a connection controlled by the airline, it’s deemed safe, according to Reader’s Digest. You’ll still need to have your cellular network turned off (so obviously keep aeroplane mode on), but you can flick Wi-Fi on if you want to use your plane’s connection.

And that’s about it. Bottom line – it’s a safety issue to have your phone switched off or to aeroplane mode during a flight.

Safety first

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Ask Giz is a fortnightly series where we answer your questions, be it tech, science, gadget, health or gaming related. This is a reader-involved series where we rely on Gizmodo Australia’s audience to submit questions. If you have a question for Giz, you can submit it here. Or check out the answer to our last Ask Giz: Why Are Headlights So Bright on New Cars?

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