Can Your Cell Phone Cause Interference On A Plane? We Asked The Experts
Photo Credit: Omar Prestwich

Photo Credit: Omar Prestwich

Can Your Cell Phone Cause Interference On A Plane? We Asked The Experts

Ayah A.
Ayah A. Jul 30, 2021

On July 16, TN brought you the story of a flight that was delayed three hours due to a passenger refusing to get off of her cell phone. The incident sparked a lot of debate on a topic that has always been a touchy subject.

While some argue the likelihood of a cell phone causing interference with an airplane’s operation is very slim, others say it is possible, and that it’s best to err on the side of caution rather than take the risk. Here’s what experts have to say.

In its Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Communications Commission prohibits mobile phones from being used while an aircraft is in flight.

“Cellular telephones installed in or carried aboard airplanes, balloons or any other type of aircraft must not be operated while such aircraft are airborne (not touching the ground). When any aircraft leaves the ground, all cellular telephones on board that aircraft must be turned off.”

@keepingupwithvava, a flight attendant from North Carolina, says airline flight crews are only adamant about passengers switching off their phones to follow the rules and for the safety of everyone on board.

“Cell phones interfere with the pilot’s communication with the towers,” she said. “And there’s no Wi-Fi calling while in flight to avoid potential terrorist attacks.”

An avionics systems engineer in commercial and military aviation who is also a pilot, gave us a deeper look into the technical aspect of the matter.

“As an engineer, I actually conduct electromagnetic interference (EMI) tests regularly for certain aircraft electronics that go into Boeing and Airbus airliners. These operate on different frequency bands than cellular devices, and although the odds of interference may be slim, it’s not impossible.”

“For such an unforgiving endeavor with so little room for error, especially during the two most critical phases of flight (take-off and landing), regulators simply don’t want to take the chance.”

However, as a general aviation pilot that flies at low altitudes closer to cell towers, he admits the few times he has used his cell phone have never posed an issue.

“And if anything, my instruments in the plane are far less sophisticated and therefore more vulnerable if cellular transmissions were to be an issue.”

To date there are no known instances of air accidents determined to have been caused by the use of an electronic device on an aircraft. However, rules are rules, and the FCC says the violation of their rule prohibiting mobile phone use during flight could result in suspension of service and/or a fine.

According to the flight attendant, “If the crew has to keep telling the passenger, then they will get a formal written notice to cease. If it continues, it can lead to them being banned for not following crew instructions.”

Related: FAA Hits Unruly, Unmasked JetBlue Passenger With $14,500 Fine

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