3 Passengers Jailed for Using Their Phones Inflight (Even in Airplane Mode)

Earlier this year one passenger was jailed for listening to music on their phone during takeoff and landing.

Another passenger tried to make calls during their flight.

It’s not clear what the third passenger was doing other than refusing to turn off their phone when asked by a flight attendant.

All three incidents occurred on flights bound for Beijing between January 5 and February 6. The longest flight, from Nanchang, was 774 miles.

Two of the passengers were held for five days, and one was held for three days.

Chinese civil aviation regulations forbid the use of mobile phones inflight – even in airplane mode – but they do not forbid the use of tablets.

I know this but out of habit had my phone out and was scolded for it by a flight attendant on China Eastern last year. I was perplexed for a moment, trying to explain that the phone was in airplane mode. She didn’t understand, and then I remembered. I guess I got lucky, of course I was flying to Colombo (on a flight that continued to Kunming, but I was getting off before reaching China).

Last year Air China suspended a pilot who broadcasted his duties on social media because he violated the ban on inflight cell phone use.

These are rules which constantly seem on the verge of being repealed, but haven’t been to date.

There have been hints that rules would be changed soon. In 2014, Zhou Hong, an aviation communication expert, told China Daily that the CAAC had been “exploring the possibility of air travelers using electronic devices at a height of more than 3,000 meters,” or roughly 9,842 feet. Hong suggested that the result of the study would come in 2016.

Last year, as that deadline came and went, there was another report that China would allow mobile phone usage on flights. In an interview with Bloomberg, Zhu Tao, director of the air transportation division at CAAC, told Bloomberg News that he expected legislation to be amended either by the end of the year or by early 2017.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Eric clearly you have never been to China if you thought to ask a question like this. 🙂 There are a lot of things the Chinese do that make people scratch their heads. Like why does the Chinese military control almost all the air space? China has some of the worst airports for delays in the world. I flew Hong Kong to Shanghai which is supposed to be a 2 hour 30 mins flight. Because of ATC delays we sat on the tarmac waiting for takeoff clearance for over two hours. I don’t think we even took off until after our scheduled arrival time. Everything to do with their aviation industry is a complete mess.

  2. in relation to all issues concerning china be explicity clear to adhere to to leaving all things political or to electronics on a plane especially in Chinese airspace or within the country of china itself or you could be in deep shit and no one to help you china is a great country but remember an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. then give china respect as china is another nation with another history and rules study it culture and expand your narrow views the world is larger than you think.

  3. I was interested to note that the security pat-down, pretty damn intense, was given on men by women. Being a man I was about to apply for the job but then found out that the opposite is not true. The men do not pat down the women.

  4. If they get jailed for using a cell phone then i assume the penalty for punching a gate agent in the face is a lot more severe?

  5. Let’s be honest, attendants from Chinese airlines won’t “scold” you, they are the most courteous flight attendants around the world. They are trained to smile and persuade nicely. I have flied numerous flights to/from China and within China, never saw somebody got scolded.

    But a rule is a rule, you should just follow it. They reminds you many times as far as I my experience goes.

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