Why Can't I Use My Cell Phone On An Airplane?

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bars the use of all transmitting devices in the off chance that transmissions could interfere with a plane's navigation and communications equipment and cause system malfunctions. It's true that these concerns are overblown, but the FAA likes to err on the side of caution. (Can you blame them?)

The real reason authorities don't want you flipping open your mobile phone has less to do with crashing your plane and more to do with crashing the cell phone network. The Federal Communications Commission has determined that mid-flight calls have a direct impact on cell phone service on the ground. That's because cell phones are primarily designed for callers who are firmly planted on land, communicating with a single, nearby tower. If you're speeding through the sky at 550 mph, your phone will connect with multiple towers and eat up valuable space on their circuits, wreaking havoc on service. A 2007 plan to lift the ban was strongly opposed by cell carriers for this reason. So, at least for a while, frequent flyers should recline their seatbacks and enjoy the last place on Earth that's free of cell phone chatter.

April 13, 2009 - 6:00am
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