Yesterday afternoon, sitting on an American Airlines airplane, I listened to the flight attendant command us to turn off all cell phones and portable electronic devices right before takeoff. We have all heard and obeyed this command for years, believing that somehow our cell phones and ipods could somehow bring down a jet.
But could my cell phone crash a plane? Really?
As soon as we reached cruising altitude, I called the flight attendant over. “Ma’m,” I asked, “Why must we turn off our portable electronic devices and cell phones during takeoff and landing?” “Oh, that’s because they may interfere with the pilot’s navigation systems,” she said. “Yeah, but, if that’s true, then why would you rely on the honor system, if something as important as a navigation system could be affected by my cell phone?”, I replied. Now she got an annoyed look on her face and said impatiently, “Sir, it would take quite a few cell phones at the same time to disrupt our navigation systems, and we are dealing with adults.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “But, ma’m, there are bad people out there; you can’t trust everybody to do the right thing.” Now she was really annoyed. “That’s all we need now; to collect all cell phones and electronic devices before takeoff and landing; I don’t think so!” She gave me one last glare, and before I could respond, she walked away.
This is what is called “cognative dissonance”. They tell us that our cell phones and electronic devices could, in theory, disrupt navigation systems and crash the plane, but then leave the enforcement of this rule up to “the honor system” because we are all “adults”. Huh?
Allow me to make you feel better about flying the “friendly skies”. The idea that your cell phone or portable electronic device could crash a plane is a myth. But, like many myths, it has some truth embedded in it. A plane’s navigation system could be affected by your cell phone or ipod, but it is shielded to prevent such a catastrophe.
Here is an exerpt from a study done by the television show, “Mythbusters“:
The reason that you can’t use your cellphone on an airplane is not because it will interfere with the in-flight instruments but because it forces you to use the in-flight phone on the back of your seat. An airplane’s cockpit is well-shielded against interference, but the FAA does not want to do the necessary testing to confirm this.
ABC News also studied this issue and concluded that: not a single air crash has been proven to be caused by the use of a cell phone onboard a plane.
John Nance, an ABC News consultant and veteran airline pilot, says there’s little reason to worry about cell phones interfering with an airplane’s navigational equipment. He says an airplane’s electronic systems are “all heavily shielded. That means that stray signals cannot get into those systems.”
the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration “have not done their job over about a 25-year period. And the airlines have quite properly said … if you’re not going to tell us, then we’re just going to default to the most conservative position and say we’re not going to use them in the air.”
Here’s the bottom line: Your cell phone and ipod are not going to bring down a jet, I don’t care how many flight attendants say so.