What could go wrong if you leave your mobile on during an air flight?


The engineer sitting next to me dropped his head in disbelief and then shook it from side to side with an air of disappointment and dismay. I followed his gaze back to  the flight attendant who was leaning into the window taking photos with her mobile of the stunning sunset from the empty front row seat on the port side of our Air NZ ATR 72 flight in the final minutes of our descent into Auckland yesterday evening. I looked back at him and said “I was thinking the same thing.” Having had a conversation with him about our reliance on computers in transport these days.

This is not the flight I was on last night, nor the same type of plane.

This is not the flight I was on last night, nor the same type of plane.

As she was clicking with the volume turned up making a loud camera shutter emulation sound, I thought back to earlier in the flight when one of the flight attendants did her first PA not long into our 1 hour domestic flight. The PA came complete with the GSM bleep a phone makes when it is too close to a speaker; you know, the noise your mobile phone computer makes when you have your it too close to the speaker as it connects to the telecommunications network.

This got me to thinking about the number of people I see on flights who put their phones into flight mode before take off, but don’t actually switch them off, despite being instructed. It seems that a very large percentage of people don’t actually switch them off before they go into their pockets. Most of us have probably done that at some time, not thinking further, even though the instructions are very clear, flight mode, then switch off.

Farther into the flight, we had broken the clouds as I asked a flight attendant, serving mineral water into the plastic glass I was holding out for her, if I could now use my Kindle, which was dutifully in flight mode. I had to say Kindle several times, which she didn’t seem to understand, so I asked if we were at cruise altitude so we could use safe electronic devices. “No.” she replied after a little thought.

On her next PA, there was that GSM ping-ping again, as the flight attendant began another PA, telling us that the coffee service would be delayed due to unexpected turbulence. It was briefly interrupted and the pinging stopped, perhaps as she moved her mobile farther away from the microphone.

I was looking forward to the PA to tell me that electronic devices in flight mode could be used, so I could enjoy one of the books I recently purchased for my Kindle. It never came. The next PA, again with the GSM pings came on to say we were heading into our final descent again, was to tell us to stop using and switch off all electronic devices.

I was most disappointed because there had been some stunning cloud formations on the flight home that I would have loved to have captured. This is why my attached pic is from a different trip, I took with Air NZ last week.

So back to watching the flight crew attendant taking photos just before she strapped her self in for landing. I discussed the situation of fly by wire and the fact that there were rumors that the American Federal Aviation Authority were going to relax their rules on using mobiles during take off and landing, that they suspected it wasn’t in fact dangerous. With both of us having a degree of engineering training, we understood the concept of signal induction, which was of course the cause of the tell tale bleeps on the PA, which suggested that he phone might not have been switched into flight mode at any stage during the flight.

As we landed, we were pleased to be on the tarmac safe and sound,  but we thought back to the missing Malaysian Airlines plane and I remarked “Whether it is safe to use your mobile or not, imagine if the plane had crashed and it was your mobile they found that was still switched on?”

It amazes me that passengers flout the rules as if they know better than the Aviation Authorities with “I’ve flown a thousand times and I’m still here.” When it is the professional flight crew who flout their position in front of passengers in order to get that great sunset shot, several minutes after having told everyone to turn their devices off, that might be taking it too far.

I didn’t get to read my Kindle eBook, because she had never told us we could turn our devices on. I looked around several times to check if anyone else was using a tablet or other device and they weren’t. What was interesting to me is that not a soul said a word to her about having her mobile on and using it, despite having told passengers that the rules were that we couldn’t. What if her mobile had cause interference during a wing over or other maneuvering of the plane? You might not be reading this blog.

Do you switch off all your devices during flight when instructed. Did you realize they have to be not only in flight mode but be switched off?

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “What could go wrong if you leave your mobile on during an air flight?

  1. I do turn off my mobile when flying. I do not get the opportunity to fly a lot, but when I do, I have to say it is almost freeing to have a moment where I am not tied down or held accountable to this little computer in my pocket. I have several friends that just put theirs into flight mode. They believe that equates to turning the mobile off.

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