Why Can’t You Use Your Cell Phone on a Plane?

by Steve Dasseos on September 12, 2008

Why Can’t You Use Your Cell Phone on a Plane?

Despite what some flight attendants might say, making a call from your cell phone probably won’t send your plane crashing to the ground. So why can’t you use it?

Your cell phone can interfere with avionics in theory. But in practice, it’s not very likely. Cockpits and communications systems have been shielded against electromagnetic interference since the 1960s.

What’s really going on is resistance from the call carriers. When phones ping for signals at 35,000 feet, they can hit hundreds of towers at once, necessitating complicated roaming agreements. The technical problem is not insurmountable, but there isn’t enough demand for action. Only 16 percent of U.S. fliers are interested in using cell phones on planes; most people are vehemently opposed.

Still, OnAir, an air-to-ground communications company, already has an airborne cellular system in European trials, and by the end of the year plans to put the system on dozens of planes.

Wired August 19, 2008

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