How To Destroy An Airplane

On our way down to Tam­pa this past week­end, we had a lay­over in Atlanta (fly­ing the big D, of course). As we were walk­ing off the plane, Angela hap­pened to pull out her cell phone.

“Oh, crap! I left my cell phone on the whole time!”

I replied, in a sar­cas­tic shocked tone “and the plane did­n’t crash. Wow.” To which, some lady who hap­pened to be walk­ing behind us said, aloud, and in what I can only assume is her most grave tone:

“Well, thank God!”

At which point she marched on beyond us under Ange­la’s death-be-to-you stare.

If cell phones could real­ly bring down a Boe­ing 737, then why are the ter­ror­ists still play­ing around with knives? Why does the TSA even allow these das­tard­ly weapons‑O’-mass-destruction on board flights? We’re all doomed, but not from cell phones, but from the peo­ple who believe that the act of even hav­ing one on can drop a jet out of the sky

For clar­i­fi­ca­tion here, the air­lines state that per­son­al elec­tron­ics may inter­fere with the planes nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems (which are not what keep the plane in the air, just point­ed cor­rect­ly). How­ev­er, this is main­ly dur­ing take-off and land­ing. Am I to believe that there are no cell phone sig­nals pass­ing through a plane at this time, just because no one on board is using one? What about all the peo­ple using one in the air­port who are con­nect­ing to a cell tow­er on the oth­er side of the runway?

Update: Some news for Engad­get that sup­ports the com­ments by Travis. Not that I doubt­ed you, I just want­ed to let you know you were right on target.

Categorized as Geek, Life

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.


  1. I’m scared. Maybe we should all just for­get tech­nol­o­gy and live in our holes and wait for the inevitable bomb­ing from (insert evil-doer coun­try here)… damn fanat­ics. Sheesh.

  2. No, that means the Lud­dites have won. We should embrace tech­nol­o­gy, even if cross­ing the streams may result in us blow­ing up our pho­ton packs.

  3. Keep the cell phone on if you want. I have acce­den­tial­ly left a phone on many times and only twice has the plane crashed or land­ed at the wrong airport.

    No real­ly it won’t mat­ter one bit. As you said Jason, the ambi­ent sig­nals (phones, radios, satelittes, whale nois­es heard from the ocean while rid­ing your Kligon Bird or Prey, etc) that cer­tain­ly do impact and enter the plane’s elec­tron­ics will not be as intense as some­one using a phone a few steps away. Even still we will all be safe.

    I’m pret­ty sure this rule is to keep peo­ple like me out of jail since I would sure­ly flush many of the tele­phones down the lava­to­ry if they were ring­ing all over the place with peo­ple say­ing loud­ly “can you hear me now” through my nap. Call it air­line rage or nap rage, but this is how I see it going.

    I won­der how well the phone would work when you cross that mag­i­cal 10,000 ft bar­ri­er at which point tray tables begin to func­tion and the wheels on the bev­er­age cart sud­den­ly are able to roll.

    And what is the scoop on GPS receivers? Are they per­mit­ted? Do they trans­mit any­thing or just recieve? I have always want­ed to fig­ure out what exact­ly I am fly­ing over and I can nev­er seem to do it well enough with just my mem­o­ry of what the roads and land­scape looks like.

    Back you the main dis­cus­sion point: As long a peo­ple respect those around and amoung them then I am hap­py. This applies to all things in life not just the guy with the Voda­fone sit­ting next to me. But I sup­pose you can’t reg­u­late or man­date respect.

  4. I have a good friend that assures me, and with good author­i­ty (as he went to and grad­u­at­ed from Embry Rid­dle, one of the top flight/training schools in the US) that the cell phone sig­nals do NOTHING to the plane. There are reg­u­la­tions in place for oth­er rea­sons… have you ever noticed the phones that you can use and pay like $9 a minute for? Also, think about this… they turn out the lights, give you pil­lows and blan­kets; basi­cal­ly, they are try­ing to get you to sit there and be qui­et. Using cell phones would dis­rupt there plan!

    I have also heard that there, recent­ly, has been some sug­ges­tion that this issue may come up before con­gress or the sen­ate, and they may actu­al­ly vote on whether or not to lift the ban. I per­son­al­ly hope they don’t. It is bad enough that I have to lis­ten to the peo­ple around me talk­ing, this would make it worse.

    Thank God for IPOD!

  5. The issue is up with both the FCC and the FAA my lawyer cousin at the FCC tells me. While con­gress can cer­tain­ly poke into this where they real­ly should stay out, I forsee that the rules that the FCC and FAA have in place may well change in the near future. Of course recent­ly the rules were changed to allow cell phone use dur­ing land­ing taxi. The rule for­mer­ly required the cab­in door be open before cell phones could be turned on.

  6. I had no idea you guys would be so pas­sion­ate about cell phones on planes. I do have to agree with the gen­er­al con­sen­sus here: I have no prob­lem with the rule, because it sure does make the flight more pleas­ant to not have cell phones on. Duane, I too lis­ten to my iPod while fly­ing; or some­times watch a movie on a lap­top (with earphones).

    As far as GPS units go, I don’t think most mod­els send any sig­nal. I imag­ine they fall under the cat­e­go­ry of per­son­al elec­tron­ics and that no one would have any prob­lem with you hav­ing one. Except of course for the new class of para­noid pas­sen­gers that are sure that every­one else is a ter­ror­ist, but they don’t like my iPod, either. I’m not sure if the speed of the plane would allow you to take reli­able data, but it’s worth trying…

    I have noticed the air-phones on planes, as well. I think they were a bad idea with bad tim­ing. You could cer­tain­ly make the argu­ment that the imposed cell phone rule was sim­ply to sub­si­dize their use. How­ev­er, I’d say peo­ple prob­a­bly just would rather put their work on hold for a few hours rather than pay through the nose for that call. Now, as far as fed­er­al law goes, my inner cyn­ic tells me that the only rea­son con­gress would step in is if some mem­bers wish to be able to make calls them­selves. I don’t think there is cur­rent­ly a huge pub­lic out­cry for this (see my first para­graph and posts by others).

  7. I’ve tak­en GPS receivers of many dif­fer­ent types with me on a pletho­ra of dif­fer­ent air­planes. I’m a stu­dent pilot and fly quite reg­u­lar­ly. I have heard, from a dear friend of mine who is an Air­bus Cap­tain with a major air­line , that he has expe­ri­enced issues with nav/instruments mal­func­tion­ing because of some­one on the plane using a cell phone on final approach. GPS how­ev­er, has no or very very lit­tle out­go­ing sig­nal and I’ve got­ten quite a bit of atten­tion from flight atten­dants when I pop open my lap­top and gps receiv­er and show every­body where we are and how high we are and how fast we’re trav­el­ing. I can’t wait to get my Garmin 396 up and run­ning in a com­er­cial flight, it’s got real time weath­er info on it too!


  8. I am a pilot, and I fly a small air­plane. I can actu­al­ly HEAR my cell phone try­ing to con­nect to a tow­er through my head­set when the cell phone is on. It’s also pos­si­ble that it could “screw” with the ILS fre­quen­cy caus­ing a plane to have dif­fi­cul­ties using an ILS approach. This could be a big prob­lem if a cell phone inter­feres with an ILS sig­nal dur­ing an IMC ILS landing…

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