Airliners have a rather stringent list of rules and regulations that passengers are required to adhere to from the moment they board the plane to the moment they step off it.
And while most of these regulations are self-explanatory in terms of the purpose they serve, others are not that straightforward and require some additional exploration.
Such is the “airplane mode regulation”. As you probably already know, airliners require all passengers to switch their personal electronic devices on airplane mode for the duration of the flight.
The most popular opinion is that this is done for safety purposes, as people think that active cell phones might interfere with the plane’s navigation equipment and compromise the safety of everyone on board.
However, this notion has never really been proven to have any significant bearing on the plane’s systems and overall performance.
“It’s never been proven that a mobile phone signal has interfered with the navigation performance of the aircraft,” a pilot has told the Business Insider.
“But just because it’s never happened doesn’t mean it will never happen.”
The real reason why airlines make passengers put their phone on “airplane mode” is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent U.S. government regulatory agency responsible for overseeing all interstate and international communications.
FCC’s regulations state that the use of cell phones on planes is banned in order to “protect against radio interference to cell phone networks on the ground.”
In laymen’s terms, this means that when flying at 40,000 feet in the air, active cell phones would be picking up service from multiple cell towers on the ground, potentially crowding the networks on the ground and disrupting the service.
In order to get around this limitation, some international airlines have cell phone receivers installed on selected planes so passengers can call or text in the air.
Many US airlines also allow passengers to connect to Wi-Fi so they can surf the web and send messages.
However, most airlines, including American Airlines, Virgin America and United Airlines, still restrict passengers from making calls over in-flight Wi-Fi.
“Cell phone and Voice-over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services are not available with in-flight Wi-Fi,” state the airline’s regulations.
“For the safety and comfort of our guests, VoIP and Video Chat are also prohibited,” says Virgin America.
“Voice and video calls are not permitted,” reads United Airlines’ rule book.