Turning Off Phones or Electronic Devices on Airplanes

The truth about using gadgets and phones on a plane

Can you use your cell phone or another electronic device on an airplane during takeoff, or do you have to turn it off? The short answer is... sometimes. It depends on the policies of both the airline and the country.

Business traveler on their phone.
Matthew Hurst/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

What the FCC and FAA Say About In-Flight Phone Usage

In the United States, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has outlawed using a phone while the plane is off the ground, regardless of the airline. This restriction is set by the FCC to circumvent possible issues with cell towers.

The FCC regulation reads as follows:

Cellular telephones installed in or carried aboard airplanes, balloons or any other type of aircraft must not be operated while such aircraft are airborne (not touching the ground). When any aircraft leaves the ground, all cellular telephones on board that aircraft must be turned off.

However, a separate law administered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), does allow for the use of wireless devices while flying:

(b)(5): Any other portable electronic device that the operator of the aircraft has determined will not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft on which it is to be used.

In the case of an aircraft operated by a holder of an air carrier operating certificate or an operating certificate, the determination required by paragraph (b)(5) of this section shall be made by that operator of the aircraft on which the particular device is to be used. In the case of other aircraft, the determination may be made by the pilot in command or other operator of the aircraft.

This means that one airline may allow in-flight calls for all or certain flights, while another may ban all phone usage during the entire length of the flight or just during takeoff.

Europe also has some airlines, like Ryanair, that allow for mobile phone usage on flights and others that do not. Many Chinese airlines do not allow phones to be used at all. Clearly, there's no blanket policy or law determining where and when you can make a call on a flight.

The best way to determine if you're allowed to use a phone or other electronics on your next flight is to contact the airline and check with them.

Why Some Airlines Don't Allow Electronics

One reason airlines do not allow for the use of cellular devices on flights is because they cause interference with radios and onboard instruments, but it's not the only reason.

Talking on the phone can be socially intrusive, especially in tightly packed environments like an airplane. Some people are just annoyed by passengers talking on the phone for long periods of time, and who can blame them?

Some airlines support the use of such devices to compete with rival companies that do not. That policy is something customers should consider when choosing between airlines.