Electronic Devices on Planes


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Those who had kids in the 90s will remember the ubiquitous Furby toy that talked and interacted with other Furby toys. So why are we talking about an annoying furry toy that is still available today, albeit a much more advanced model?

Aside from having a very annoying voice, it was classed as an electronic device with the potential to interfere with the radio waves on an aircraft. The Furby toy was illustrated on the Safety cards in Australian airlines and placed in the seat pocket from 1998 onwards, with a warning not to turn them on while on board.

Air New Zealand ordered passengers to remove batteries from the furry toy in 2000, and Singapore Airlines reportedly banned them. U.S. and Canadian airlines also moved to ensure passengers remove batteries while the toys were on board the planes.

While the Furby is no longer a threat to the airways, there is still the matter of your mobile phone. We can all probably repeat the airline safety announcement before take-off, by heart –

“Please ensure your seats are in the upright position, tray tables stowed, window shades are up, laptops are stored in the overhead bins, and electronic devices are set to flight mode”.

While most of the instructions make sense, it is the final instruction that causes the most discussion. Let’s look at some of those.

The U.S

As far back as 1992, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority and Boeing conducted an independent study investigating the interference electronic devices could have on an aircraft. They found no issues with computers or other personal electronic devices during non-critical phases of flight. (Take-offs and landings).) But, of course, 1992 was a long time ago, and we didn’t have the technology we have today, right?

As a result of this study, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission started to create reserved frequency bandwidths for mobile phones and aircraft navigation and communications to ensure they didn’t interfere with one another.

Following this, the rest of the world followed. However, the European Union countries have not switched off electronic devices since 2014.

In 2014, U.S. government officials revealed that passenger mobile phone signals could interfere with display units on some Boeing 737 and 777 aircraft models; these display units have since been replaced.


So, why do we have to set our devices to flight mode? There are several different answers to this question, depending on your country.

Why are most countries still insisting we turn off our mobile devices? While there have been rare occasions where interference has occurred, there is still the potential for it to happen. The other main reason is interference from the ground.

Most devices we use today are connected to Wireless networks by a series of towers, and networks become overloaded if all passengers connect simultaneously. We have also recently moved to 5G technology, which the aviation industry has identified as being very close in frequency to the currently reserved aviation bandwidth.

An overload on this bandwidth during critical times – take-off and landing – could cause interference with control towers, navigation systems and even the pilot’s headset. It makes the Furby look like small fry!

While air operators in Australia have expressed concern about the 5G rollout, the European Union have carried on regardless, without any problems being identified. 

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has the following to say about using mobile devices on aircraft.

“You can use your mobile phone and other personal electronic devices (such as tablets and laptops) safely on flights. But you must follow all onboard procedures and the crew’s instructions. Policies on taking electronic devices vary among airlines. Check your airline’s policy because they have the final say on:

  • the type of devices you can take on board
  • when you can use them
  • how you can use them.”

Annoying other Passengers

Our modern society has become so reliant on mobile phones that people expect 24/7 access to the world. There was a time when we boarded a plane and didn’t communicate with anyone but the person sitting next to us for up to 20 hours.   

The other issue is people talking on their phones when the crew are trying to get everyone seated and buckled in or people talking loudly on their phones in the small confines of a cabin. There are some places where we just don’t need 24/7 access to communication devices, and the air is one of those places.

While there is a chance that there could be interference from a mobile device while flying 36 000 feet above the ground, most people are happy with being asked to switch off their devices. 

Whatever the reasons, it is up to your chosen airline how you use electronic devices on board, and they always have the last say.  Complying with their policies is a small price to pay for ensuring the safety of yourself and everyone around you.

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