Galley Gossip: The REAL reason for no cell phones in flight

Recently someone asked me what the real reason was for no cell phones in flight. My reply, “Does it matter? You still have to turn it off and put it away.”

There are three things flight attendants should not discuss with passengers. They are religion, politics, and the reason why cell phone use is not permitted in flight. This is because everyone has their own opinion and people feel strongly about what they believe to be true. It’s not easy for some to agree to disagree and be done with it. The last thing we need in flight is a passenger who wants to argue. Trust me, we get enough of those without engaging in controversial conversations.

When it comes to why cell phones aren’t allowed on airplanes, a lot of passengers have come up with conspiracy theories. These grand theories all revolve around money. Call me crazy, but if the airlines could make a buck off of cell phone use in flight like they do with wi-fi, don’t you think they would have figured out how by now? And regardless of what I say, these same suspicious passengers are still going to do what they want to do – until I ask them to turn it off!

In 2006 Scientific American published a report that stated an average of four calls were made per flight. With so many people unable to “turn it off” literally, can you imagine what that number would be today! On a flight from Dallas to Oklahoma City I had remind sixteen passengers – sixteen! – not once, not twice, but three times to turn off and stow their electronic devices after we had backed away from the gate. And those were only the passengers I had caught red handed. These days passengers are pretty sneaky with their electronic devices. It’s impossible to check under every thigh and inside passengers pockets to make sure passengers are complying with only a few minutes left before take-off.

“When I forget to turn off my phone by accident, I notice the plane still finds the airport,” said one reader.

Thank God for that!

Do I think one phone will affect the outcome of a flight? No. Do I think several phones “accidentally” left on will bring an aircraft down? I don’t know. Maybe it depends on the number of cell phones that are left on and the aircraft equipment type. All I know for sure is I’d rather not find out the hard way. While there hasn’t been a case of a crash caused by cell phone interference, there are numerous reports that cell phones do in fact interfere, especially on smaller planes “where instruments are more sensitive because they rely on small changes to indicate direction,” explained a pilot.

Whenever I start to discuss cell phones in flight someone always brings up Myth Busters Episode 49: Cell phones on planes. Personally, I wouldn’t put a plane full of passengers lives in jeopardy because of what a television show had to say. And while they considered the theory “busted” the caveat was: why take the chance.

“Some European carriers allow mobile phones in flight – certified by the aircraft maker. They’d never approve it if it were unsafe,” said our very own Gadget Guy, Scott Carmichael, during a recent conversation.

May I point out we’re not in Europe! And batteries get run down searching for a signal. Signals are intermittent at best because the plane is moving at four to five hundred miles per hour. On top of that, “European carriers have pico cells on board to make sure in-flight calls are safe. US aircraft aren’t equipped,” explains Mary Kirby, Flight Global’s Runway Girl.

Why aren’t US carriers equipped like European ones? I think it’s safe to assume it’s because that would cost money. A lot of money! Passengers already complain about ticket prices that are cheaper than they were twenty years ago. No joke! Are you willing to cover the cost that will no doubt be passed on to you, the consumer, in the form of higher ticket prices when you’re already angry about having to pay for checked bags? That’s what I thought.

Now just for a moment let’s pretend cell phones have been proven to be safe to use in flight. Do you really want to sit next to the blathering idiot going on and on about how important he is, or the kid who wants to know what the “mutha F’er” did next, or the elderly woman discussing her rashes and lab results with a loved one? Didn’t think so. As for me, I’d rather not have to start policing passenger’s conversations when they become too loud and bothersome to those seated around them.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images and Jung Hong