“Are you going to turn your phone off?”

Theoretical question for y’all. It goes without saying that most people have at one point or another not followed the “no electronic devices under 10,000 feet rule,” and I’m not just talking about passengers, but also pilots and flight attendants. If I had a dollar for every flight attendant I’ve seen on their cell phone during taxi or takeoff, I’d have enough money for a lifetime supply of Diet Coke with lime.

So pretend you have a habit of putting your phone into airplane mode when the aircraft door closes and placing the phone in the seatback pocket, since you intend to use it as soon as you pass through 10,000 feet. A violation of FAA policy? Sure, much like going a mile over the speed limit is technically illegal, though neither present the least bit of a threat.

If a flight attendant “caught” you I’m sure you would turn it off, because understandably they have to enforce the FAA regulations.

On the other hand, pretend that as you taxi to the runway your seatmate (who you haven’t spoken a word to) says to you “are you going to turn your phone off?” Mind you, you haven’t touched your phone since you left the gate and the phone presents no threat to their safety (and your seatmate is a frequent flyer, which you know based on the status on their boarding pass, which is visible).

How do you react, and what do you assume is their motive?

When reacting do you say:
a) Yeah, let me turn it off
b) Oh, it’s on? I had no clue…
c) It’s already off
d) What’s it to you?
e) Something else

And given the circumstances, what do you assume is the person’s motive?
a) Legitimately concerned for their safety
b) Didn’t make it into the police academy, so is trying to do the next best thing
c) Just doesn’t like you
d) Something else

Not that any of this happened on my flight or anything, but nonetheless curious to hear what y’all think…

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Start with C and depending on their response go through B and A.

    OR you could try E ‘but how else am I supposed to detonate the bomb?’

    Their motive is likely B, A, D, C

  2. Question 1: f) “Mind your own damn business. Also, you have horrible taste in footwear.”

    Question 2: either e) nosy parker who loves getting in everyone’s affairs, or f) ridiculous paranoia.

    Of course, I could just be used to New Zealand, where there’s no security for anything smaller than a jet, and no liquid rules domestically anyway. And you can still sit in the cockpit on approach if you ask nicely.

  3. Was in C on a PS flight and, after putting my iPhone into airplane mode and then pressing the top button to put it to sleep, my seatmate remarked, “You know that’s not off, right?”

    So I replied, with a tone hinting at technical authority: “Actually, when in airplane mode and when asleep so the screen is off, from an electronic emissions perspective, it is the exact same as being off.”

    Was it true? No clue. Don’t care. But it shut her up.

  4. If he really knew what he was doing he would know the motivation behind the FAA’s rules.

    The no cell phone (with the radio on) when the door is closed rule is due to perceived issues with electromagnetic interference. So long as the radio is off (in airplane mode) one is complying with the spirit of the rule and isn’t compromising flight safety even if the phone is still technically powered on.

    The other rule (electronics off below 10,000 ft) is more about reducing the number of potential projectiles in the cabin and making sure the crew can quickly get everyones attention in the event of an emergency. Stowing the phone (seat back, pocket, under seat, etc…) takes care of those issues (regardless if the phone is actually off).

    I am actually suppressed that they don’t make people put their books, etc. away during take off. I really wouldn’t enjoy getting hit in the head with a copy of War and Peace…

  5. I always leave turn mine to flight mode and put it in my bag when the FA makes the announcement, but I never actually turn it off. I’ve never had a seatmate react, as I’m not holding my phone in front of his/her face during this process, but if I did I’d go with:

    C – I’m happy to lie to someone who is that annoying.


    B – Some people just need to feel in control in all situations.

  6. So everybody’s point is: We only obey the rules we agree to even if we are on someone else’s property.

    This is like telling a teenager that they should only obey their house’s rules only if they agree to them and if another teenager comes along and tells them to obey their parent, they should say “shut the f**k up and mind your business”

    You are not being asked to interpret laws/rules just to obey them.

    I like my gadgets, but turning them off and obeying the rules for a few minutes is not going to kill you.

  7. @Sak

    I think this is an example of a time when it is reasonable to not comply with the letter of the law while still complying with the intent. My compliance with the laws of my country is not analogous to my behavior as a guest in another’s house. For the same reason, I will comply with LHR’s use of AIT while protesting it and other abuses by the TSA in the USA.

  8. Good question, Ben. I, however, cut it off from the beginning. I put my phone in airplane mode at the gate nearing door close time and if my seatmate is “looking,” pretend to hold down the button to shut it off, slide my finger across the face and then put it in my pocket. Otherwise, I’ve put it in airplane mode without any knowledge otherwise. 😉

  9. Back in high school, I was flying on a school day and had a calculus test coming up. I decided to study for it in my seat with a few notes and my TI-83 calculator. The guy next to me told me I had to turn off my calculator soon as we were on arrival — because a calculator was going to bring the plane down.

    Of course, as soon as we landed, he made a phone call way too soon for it to have been in the off position and turned on on touchdown.

  10. The rule is bullshit. I routinely ignore it.

    If you ever fly private aviation, no one ever asks you to turn any device off, ever. In fact, some aircrafts are equipped with micro cell’s, allowing you to make calls from your cellphone. An of course, wifi, via the same technology as gogo.

    The FA’s are way too over zealous, asking you turn off devices 20 minutes before landing. The FAA needs to get rid of the stupid rule.

  11. I believe that the general public has full rights to believe that electronics should be OFF during takevoff and landing as the FAA tells the airlines to say every flight. You might know that instruction is sort of bogus, but a lay person has no reason to know that, and the flight crew states otherwise each flight.

  12. Aren’t a few carriers testing giving flight deck crew iPads in lieu of printed manuals? If so, does this mean no checking the manuals and instruction documents below 10k feet?

    What about take offs from TEX? That runway is at 9,500′ +/-. Do we only need 500 feet of safety there?

  13. The top button on my iPhone is currently having emotional issues, so actually shutting it off is not an option.

    But I do put it in airplane mode and tuck it in a pocket or the little bag that goes under the seat in front of me, neatly avoiding the question and still complying with the no-transmitting and “projectile” intent of the rule, if not the precise letter.

    I have to admit I don’t buy the whole “projectile” argument – a decent hardback book will cause just as much injury as an iPhone, if not more, and they’re OK. And, of course, there’s the whole lap baby issue.

  14. @Mark

    Not sure a bunch of Boeing employees quoted saying “yes, it’s a concern” counts as evidence cell phone radio signals are harmful.

    I never turn my phone off- the iPhone takes too darn long to shut down / boot up, and this is also my small way of sticking it to the man and his ridiculous policies.

    Think about it this way. With 1.8 MM passengers transported a day, if just 1% of those passengers left their cell phones on (either accidentally or, like me, intentionally), we would have 18,000 cell phones on in planes every day. (And 1% is likely an extremely conservative number at that.) Yet there has never been a known case of cell phone interference with avionics, much less a crash caused by cell phone radio signals in the history of flight.

    And further still, if it were really that dangerous, do you think the security theater would be letting you bring your phone on the plane when they don’t even let you carry on a regularly sized can of shaving cream?

  15. Anyone who ignores the rule in my field of view, will and does hear from me. Usually quietly at first with “are you going to turn that off”, or “are you aware that all electronic devices should be completely off right now during take-off?” depending on response, I’ll elevate my comments and tone, either calling out the person by row and seat number in the cabin, or pressing the FA call button depending on our location, stage of take off, landing whatever. It is simply ridiculous that anyone can’t take simple instructions, comply with a rule/law for 10 minutes up and 10 minutes down and there is simply NOTHING of any value that one could be doing with a device that can’t be done after landing. nobody is that important or required for any role. If for some reason they are, they wouldn’t beo on that flight at that time.

    I had a colleague a few weeks ago who was on a flight that turned BACK to the gate, to let a passenger OFF who wouldn’t turn their phone off during take off.

  16. “and this is also my small way of sticking it to the man and his ridiculous policies.”

    Woohoo! You go, James Dean. Rebel without a cause. Or a clue.

  17. I definitely like a byproduct of the rule… no one wants to hear a seat mate talking on the phone (often loudly) from 6 inches away when FAs are making annoucements about departure/arrival. I think if the rule were changed to allow cell phones to remain on, it would be even tough to get those people trying to make last minute calls (which are NEVER important) to hang up. That being said, I”m an airplane mode flyer and proud of it — would never take it out and text/email when I’m not supposed to though, because I’ve spoken with friends/colleagues who become genuinely afraid when they see ANYONE on their phone when they aren’t supposed to be.

  18. True story:
    Over the summer i was flying Boston to San Francisco. Flight attendants are giving the safety speech the walk the cabin to make sure everyone is buckled up.

    The row in front of me is a nana and two kids under the age of ten who have been playing with their macbook and ipad throughout the entire safety speech.

    The flight attendants get to that row and giggle and say to each other they never shut down their electronics omg…..and kept walking without saying a word to the passengers…

    my reply to my seat mate would be: unless you are offering me champagne please be quiet for the duration of this flight! : )

  19. My concern isn’t over safety per se it is that the person who texts or uses the phone after they have been asked to put it away will cause the entire plane to be delayed or brought back to the gate to offload that passenger. If I didn’t think that was a possibility, I wouldn’t care either way as I don’t think it is a real threat to my safety.

  20. For the record, I’d act like I forgot, turn it off, and ignore them. Some people just have to stick their noses in everything, especially when it comes to rules that no one understands.

    I’m always interested in the interaction between FA and passengers. Trip home on the weekend threw a new electronic on/off fiasco at me. The FA near me was preparing the cabin for taxi and take off as usual. She came to a passenger that was holding a kindle in ‘sleep’ mode. If you’ve played with any eink reader, you’ll understand why it can present a problem. The passenger had it in airplane mode, in sleep, and open. So, obviously the screen was still displaying the wallpaper or whatever it does when it is asleep. The FA was pretty upset because the passenger didn’t understand the difference between ‘off’ and ‘sleep’. The FA had an ebook reader herself, and just knew that this kindle wasn’t off, just alseep. But it’s in airplane mode says the pax. On and on back and forth until the FA finally just took it from her and and tried to get it to go off. She didn’t want to hold the button long enough, so she just gave it back and told the pax to hold the button for 10 seconds to make it go ‘off’. Uhg, what a hassle.

    Of course, between my wife and I, we had two nooks, an ipad, two cell phones, all of which were ‘sleeping’ in airplane mode. Lately I’ve been hearing the FA announce to turn off all devices that have an ‘on/off’ switch, which is still pretty ambiguous. For most handheld electronics, there is very little difference, if any, between ‘off’ and ‘asleep in airplane’.

  21. I LOVE IT

    I LOVE IT.

    How many people have iOS devices vs others? At least 75% of the F cabin has an iOS device. Yet as mentioned above, they are quite tricky to actually “power down”. Most FAs that I encounter don’t know that you can actually power it down – they assume that the screen being dark is “off” – or at least that is my opinion. Only once have I had a FA tell me to turn it off – and I chose to tell her it was in “Airplane mode” and the screen was off—-what did she want me to do? And she shows me how to “turn it off”.

    What really doesn’t make sense is that these are electronic devices with electronic power switch mechanisms – meaning something is listening for you to turn it on—-those circuits ain’t sans-juice. There is not physical on/off switch that would resemble a light switch. SOOOO really, what’s the difference between the iPhone being in Airplane mode with the screen off and actually “powering it down” …. as stated by some other astute person above, not much.

    I find it interesting that there are SOOOOOOO many people with iOS devices yet the airlines, their employees and the FAA rule-setters don’t seem to really understand this proprietary device that has so brilliantly clobbered our world. They treat the situation as if people all have a Motorola Star-tac in their pockets.

    OHHH and don’t get me going about these TWO-WAY pagers passengers are carrying with them… that are ubiquitously part of every freaking announcement. I can’t tell you how many two-way pagers I HAVEN’T SEEN since, oh, 1994!!!!


  22. If electronics really do cause difficulty for the airplanes electronics (and there is no evidence they do) then its going to be a real problem for pilots now that many of the airlines are converting over to using iPads for navigation maps.

    Copilot to pilot as they prepare for takeoff “are you going to shut that thing off?”

  23. So Ben and others think that Airplane mode is fine. The guy in the next row thinks it’s ok to just leave his cell on full power, and the gal behind him leaves her MacBook on too. And the guy in row 26 sneaks into the bathroom to have a Marlboro.

    Wait a minute-that IS dangerous! Not to the smoker-he’s not going to do something that he thinks involves any risk. And that’s the real problem-we’re just reducing everyone’s level of safety measures to the lowest standard on board any particular flight.

    The societal solution is to have a central decision authority for safety matters, which we do-it’s called the FAA, acting (we hope) on science. And I won’t argue here that we should do what they say (I know when I’m impossibly out numbered) but I will note how interesting it is that our system for handling matters of common interest and safety have broken down so much.

  24. “A violation of FAA policy? Sure, much like going a mile over the speed limit is technically illegal, though neither present the least bit of a threat.”

    Where is the data? If not have you done any EMI testing? Then how do you make your conclusion? I am truly glad that people are very caviler about deciding what is safe and not with out any training or experience.

    If you feel the urge to say something like “I left it on once and nothing happened” and you truly think that is the level of testing that goes into aviation, then NEVER get on a plane.

  25. If it pleases the crowd of experts here (not a frequent flier per se, but I occupy my own version of 1A on a large military aircraft for 1000+ hrs a year)…I usually forget to turn off my cell phone before flight. Never have had my “pilot instruments” affected during a departure/arrival. However, when my phone locks onto a new GSM tower (not 3G) during flight, I’ll occasionally get some distinctive audio feedback in my headset…which ends when I (a)turn my iPhone off or (b)move it more than 4 feet from my head.

    As for all of you electronic device police academy recuits out there, if tattling on others makes you feel better and safer…well, who am I to tell another passenger what they can or cannot do.

  26. Frankly most of the writing on this issue just reminds me why ALL of the pleasure has been sucked out of a plane trip that is anything less than International Business Class.

    The space is too small and I am confined with people who ONLY care about putting down other people and ONLY care about asserting their supposed rights. What IS the desperation to be on the phone and have every conceivable device ready to go full throttle? Everyone can’t have a million dollar deal hanging in the balance OR a child in surgery or whatever.

    Talking on the phone at close quarters is about the same (noise) pollutant that throwing your Kentucky Fried Chicken bones on the seat or floor is. Disgusting. Discourteous. Unwelcome. Unnecessary. Turn the damn thing off.

    Look, if the flight attendants set a bad example, it is still a bad example, not a new international law for all to follow.

    Technical “safety”? Not the issue as far as I am concerned. Courtesy and the serious decline of plain ol’ decency? Yep!

    And it does not make me feel one iota safer that so many people are so knowledgable (read: knowitall) about technical issues and are so willing to argue with flight attendants responsible for safety.

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