How Bad Is It to Leave Your Cell Phone on During a Flight?

When it comes to in-flight safety, is one of your burning questions about your smartphone? Can you leave it on? Do you really need to use airplane mode? We got you covered.


It’s hard to power down for hours—we totally get it. But the mobile phone rules during air travel were put in place for safety reasons. The question is whether there’s any evidence to justify these concerns.

For starters, our cell phone emits a signal that bounces off multiple towers and sends out a stronger signal, meaning that it may cause congestion with the networks on the ground. This makes more work for the pilots during take-off and landing, exactly when they need to concentrate most. But there’s no hard evidence that all those signals actually interfere with the aircraft operating system. According to David Young, Aviation Customer Service Consultant at Ideagen, forgetting to switch on airplane mode hasn’t caused a plane to crash yet. More likely, the questions about safety boil down to the issue of distraction and simple human error. “Mobile phones are distracting,” Young says. “They draw people away from paying attention to safety procedures during briefings, and the perception that you are using your phone can cause unnecessary alarm or create tensions between fellow travelers—I’ve witnessed it.” (Check out 21 signs that you’re way too addicted to your cell phone.)

Without hard evidence about the technical risks of using cell phones on planes, more airlines are moving toward allowing the use of mobile phones during flights. Many airlines already accept limited use of mobile phones during ground phases, and others actually have free WiFi access. But, until the issue of safety is proven conclusively either way, the smart thing to do is switch off your mobile phone during flight, or just use airplane mode just to be safe.

What’s airplane mode anyway? Very simply, airplane mode (sometimes called “flight mode”) temporarily suspends signals and WiFi, even as the rest of the device remains fully functional. So you won’t be able to send or receive text messages or calls, but you can view messages that are already downloaded and access other stored information, such as your contacts, notes, games, and music.

As a bonus, switching to airplane mode will save battery power on your device. One of the biggest drains on your cell phone is the process of receiving and sending wireless signals. So switching to your phone’s airplane mode the next time you’re getting ready for take-off is a very wise move. After all, if you’re on a long flight, having a few extra minutes to spend reading or playing games on your phone could be a welcome advantage. Here are some things you should never do on an airplane.

MORE: The Safest Seat on an Airplane and 10 Other Airplane Facts You’ve Always Been Curious About


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