Turning Off Phones or Electronic Devices on Airplanes

The Truth About Using Gadgets and Phones on a Plane

Business traveler walking with suitcase on her phone

 Matthew Hurst / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Can you use your cell phone or another electronic device on an airplane during takeoff, or do you have to turn it off? This is a common question and one that you should definitely know the answer to before planning a trip, especially if you assume you'll be working or talking on your device during the flight.

The short answer, however, is that whether or not phones, tablets, computers, etc. can be used on a plane is dependent on both the airline and the country.

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.

This regulation is clearly stated in document 47 Part 22.925, where it reads:

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, according to paragraph (b)(5) of 14 CFR 91.21 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), wireless devices are allowed 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 might allow in-flight calls for all flights or maybe just certain ones, or another airline might ban all phone usage during the entire length of the flight or just during takeoff.

Europe has some airlines that have introduced mobile phone usage to their flights but it hasn't been adopted by every company, so a blanket statement for whether you can or can not use phones while flying, isn't yet possible.

Most Chinese airlines do not allow phones to be on during a flight.

The Irish Ryanair airline allows in-flight phone usage on many of their aircraft.

However, the very best way to figure out if you're allowed to use a phone or computer or any other electronics on your next flight is to contact the airline and double-check with them.

Why Some Airlines Don't Allow Electronics

It might seem obvious that the reason some airlines don't support phones and computers to be used during flights is that it could cause some sort of interference that causes radios or other devices built-in to the plan, to stop working properly.

This likely isn't the only reason that some companies and individuals are against airplane phone usage. Not only do some technologies incorporated into planes nowadays help prevent interference, but phone usage can be a socially disturbing act.

When you're in a plane just feet or even inches away from neighboring seats, you have to consider some customers just don't want to deal with someone talking right next to them or typing away on their devices. Maybe they're trying to sleep or would rather not hear a conversation right next to their ear for three hours.

Some airlines might support electronics simply to compete with rival companies that don't, so that they can amass customers that are more apt to be content with phone calls during the flight, such as a business user who needs to take phone calls en route to a meeting.