Mobiles on planes: Nearly a third of devices left on during takeoff and landing

Mobiles on planes: Nearly a third of devices left on during takeoff and landing

Summary: Should devices be switched off completely, in hibernation, or is 'airplane mode' enough during take off? The answer may soon be decided.

TOPICS: Mobility, Networking

Airlines' loosely-monitored request to switch off electrical devices like smartphones before take-off and landing fails to register with around a third of passengers, according to a new survey.

The joint study released on Thursday by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) found that 30 percent of passengers have accidentally left their smartphones, tablets or laptops on during a flight.

Passengers are also reacting to the request to turn off devices differently, it found. While 59 percent powered down their device, 21 percent switched to 'airplane mode', and five percent said they sometimes turn the device off completely.

The study comes as a special committee formed in January by the Federal Aviation Authority prepares a new set of recommendations for personal electronic devices on airplanes. The committee includes members from American Airlines, Boeing, Thales, Amazon, Garmin and CEA amongst others, and is expected to release its recommendations by July.

The group will attempt to settle whether electronic devices on planes are a safety risk, as well as define what 'airplane mode' should actually mean, according to documents seen by the New York Times earlier this year.

Boeing has investigated several incidents where devices were suspected causes of interference with planes' on-board systems; however, after investigating, it was unable confirm whether there was a direct correlation between the devices and reported airplane anomalies. Still, concerns remain that cell phones could cause interference with aircraft communications systems.

The results of the study were handed to the FAA, according to CEA. "Airline passengers have come to rely on their smartphones, tablets and e-Readers as essential travel companions," said Doug Johnson, vice president of technology policy at CEA, who is also on the review committee. "Understanding the attitudes and behaviors of passengers that are using electronic devices while traveling will help the FAA make informed decisions."

Topics: Mobility, Networking

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Even death isn't a motivator

    If people can't figure out the direct correlation between texting while driving and the risk of crashing, why would these same idiots bother to follow the rules on turning off the cell signal on their devices? At the very least you'd think they'd go into airplane mode to save precious battery life so they can menace fellow drivers once they reach their destinations.
    • Nothing to do with signals

      If cell phone signals bothered airplanes at all, we would have seen a huge number of planes falling out of the skies already. Since we have not, at least to me, seems to indicate that the cell phone signals (nevermind "MP3 players") do not trouble the airplane circuitry.
      • My math

        According to my math, if almost 1/3 of these people have left their's on, then i would suspect as well a number of plans falling out of the sky, twirling around like a kit and no engine, etc. etc. BOTTOM LINE...nobody from the airline wants to pay to have this investigated, so it's less painful and less costly to do the proper research...and PLUS it gives the staff something to do and grip about during liftoff and landing.
        • Mythbusters busted this one

          All came down to the inability to test every personal electronic device out there so they ask you to turn it off as a precaution.

          The reality is people just leave them on because of the "doesn't mean me" mentality.
    • Correlation between texting & crashing

      "If people can't figure out the direct correlation between texting while driving and the risk of crashing"??

      On a plane we're passengers! Is there a correlation between the passenger in a car texting and the driver crashing?
    • RIGHT!

      Of course, that's a perfect similar situation. Come on. Really?
  • What a Joke!

    I'm told I can't use my e-reader. Meanwhile the pilots are sitting in the cockpit using their laptops and tablets. A friend of mine who is a pilot for Delta says that they are really worried about people TALKING on cellphones during the takeoff procedure. Can't have them missing those important safety messages!
    As an engineer that has worked on Avionics systems. I find it ludicrious that I am required to turn off my MP3 player (which has absolutely no way of transmitting) off during takeoff.
    • Only Partly Right...

      It is ironic -- and suspicious -- that they use their tablets and laptops in the cockpit while passengers are not allowed to use electronic devices. But let's not forget: there are a lot more passengers than pilots, so they can generate more interference. So they are not autoatically wrong to do so.

      As for the MP3, no, you are not quite right there. MP3s do release RF. Not much, I doubt it is enough to be a genuine concern, but they do radiate RF.
    • Tablets in the Cockpit

      The airline industry (and possibly even the military) have been experimenting, and some may have already put into production, the use of tablets (offline while in flight) to access the technical data notebooks needed in flight. I do not know the exact details, but not having to carry those huge binders on every flight saves a little fuel and a lot of cockpit space, as well as allowing computer searches to look up specific items of information. They may also be using an app to display the checklists (I would doubt they speak them into the headsets) for pre-flight, post-takeoff, pre-landing, and post-landing shutdown. If anyone works for an airline, could we get some non-secret details? Such as how THESE devices, which are off the shelf just like the passengers' devices as far as hardware is concerned, avoid interfering with avionics when they are so much CLOSER to that avionics than anything held by a passenger.
    • As an engineer that has worked on Avionics systems ...

      ... If that's the case, I find it difficult to believe you aren't aware that unshielded electronic devices emit electromagnetic radiation. I agree with mejohns though, I doubt it's at high enough levels to cause problems. See CAP 756 from the CAA for discussion
  • Why a joke?

    They probably don't want to have a list guidelines that need to be parsed by passengers to determine if they need to turn off a device or not. So they issue a blanket statement saying all portable devices are to be shutdown.

    Honestly, can't we live without these devices for 20 minutes on the way up and 20 on the way down?
    • Honestly...

      no, we can't. if i want to have a phone injected into my brain and be on 100% of the time...that's my prerogative. AND, as much as flights are these days...i want internet for FREE!!!!
  • The 9/11 Terrorist's let the passengers call their families...

    and it didn't prevent them from finding their targets.

    So I'm skeptical of the FAA's claims.
    • Permission not granted...

      The terrorists didn't LET the passengers call their families. The passengers had to sneak the calls. But, yeah... the mostly found their targets while people were on the phone...
      • Not only that...

        But if too many had tried to place the calls on the same carrier at the same time, they would have overloaded the cells and none of them would have got through. For cell phone users forget: at that altitude, they bring up a LOT of base stations, clogging the system, which has NEVER been designed for this.
  • Not a real issue

    If RF transmissions from personal devices was even a minor problem, the crew would be equipped with a simple $30 device to detect transmissions. I think this is just another airline ploy to make air travel a major hassle.
    • AGREED!

      It's just BS.
      • Perhaps

        I agree with the general point, but I would guess they just don't want you listening to loud viking rock at take-off and landing, in case there is a problem.
        • It is not really a perhaps

          The reason they ask you to put away all your electronic devices, headphones, etc, during takeoff and landing is because the most dangerous parts of the flight are when the plane is near the ground. "In the unlikely event" of something bad happening, they want to make sure you are a) not distracted, b) able to hear their instructions--including the popular and effective: "Bend over, kiss buttocks goodbye" crash-brace position, and c) ready to move when they tell you (i.e., not wedged into your seat with a laptop).
  • Flight attendants should confiscate phones for persistent offenders

    Every time I fly I see so many people who cannot leave their phones alone for just 15 minutes. I'd like to see flight attendants take their phones away and return them when they land, for those who keep ignoring the rules. Its only for 15 minutes on take off and landing, they're told to turn 'em off, and no sooner has the attendant moved on... and they're back at it again, furtively glancing at the latest non event of their lives on their phone. How sad. If you're one of these people, please consider that 30 minutes without your gadget wont kill you, but having a avionics problem at 30,000 feet just might.