Should You Say Something When Passengers Won’t Put Phones in Airplane Mode?

Customers used to sneak a look at their phones during taxi, takeoff and landing. They tried to be as surreptitious about it as possible, to avoid being scolded by flight attendants. Once the ban on small electronics was lifted, and even though those are supposed to be in airplane mode, customers continue to text, browse, and e-mail until they lose their signal in the sky — and re-commence when their aircraft enters final approach.

I don’t remember the last time I saw a flight attendant say something, or ask a customer whether their typing was to queue a message for later or if they were actually connected despite being told to use airplane mode.

Sometimes I see people say something to other passengers that they see breaking these rules. And I’ve even heard passengers complain to flight attendants that their fellow travelers weren’t in airplane mode. Flight attendants generally just ignore it.

But in Singapore on Friday things escalated out of control when one passenger noticed another one using their phone as their Jetstar flight 3K161 to Darwin, Australia left the gate.

  • Passengers were told to switch off their phones.

  • But a 55 year old man noticed that his 47 year old Aussie seat opponent was still using a phone and told him to turn it off.

  • The man and his wife and the 47 year old Australian got into an argument. Crew got involved and warned them they’d all be ejected if they didn’t stop but the fight “escalated.”

  • A fourth passenger “thought she heard one of the men say the word ‘bomb’ (no one else claims to have heard this and there was no bomb).

Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 2

The plane returned to the gate. The flight was delayed about 8 hours overnight. The airline gave out meal vouchers (hopefully this time enough to buy a bowl of soup) and “families with young children were given lounge access for greater comfort.”

This is hardly the first case of a passenger behaving very badly on Jetstar (or for that matter a pilot).

Food in Singapore Changi Terminal 1

(HT: René S.)

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, 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. What’s the point? Yesterday a man in the last row of the business cabin on my LGA-MIA flight actually made a phone call on final descent to let people know where his family would meet them. The FA didn’t say anything.

  2. If it’s somebody in the seat next to me, I just start panting and moaning. Then I start screaming for him/her to spank me some more

  3. Rules (and laws) that are not uniformly enforced are worse than a waste of time. They make the people who obey them feel like they are being put at a disadvantage to those who break them, (why should someone else get to tell their ride/client/whatever the they are landing but I can’t.) They also allow selective enforcement (the FA doesn’t like the way you look, so you get enforcement, but the other passengers that don’t rub the FA wrong way are overlooked.)

    If the rules are not needed for safety and there is no other reason to enforce them, get rid of them. If it is for safety, or even that you don’t want a planeload of people all phoning home at the same time on approach, (which very well might be a safety issue if anything were to go wrong and they were too engrossed in their devices,) then enforce the rule across the board without hesitation.

    They are either necessary or they are not.

    But, don’t pick a fight with another passenger either. It is the FA’s job, they should be doing it.

  4. If I’m reading a last minute email, or finishing up an article on the web during take-off. Unless you’re a Flight Attendant – Mind your own business.

  5. Either 1: mind your own business or 2: yell out, please turn your phone off and stop looking at what looks like underaged porn.

  6. I _love_ the “panting and moaning — spank me harder,” and the “turn off that underage porn”! Sadly, these won’t do a thing for stopping real threats. In reality, here is the scoop:
    1. Commercially, legally configured electronic devices are not going to interfere with flight electronics or communications. Engineers have had decades now to fix this. So if you are on a domestic US flight and the user isn’t looking shifty eyed, odds are their phone call isn’t going to affect your plane’s ability to land.
    2. She could be calling the dude with a shoulder mounted launch tube down below.
    3. He could be using an electronic device that is illegally modified to interfere with aircraft controls. There is no better time to confuse a controller than during descent. Small deviations can result in the most damage at this time. That said, it is far, far, more likely to scramble a verbal communication with the tower, than it is to interfere with an actual hardwired flap or engine control signal. So worst case is if the tower is trying to tell your pilots not to land, and they can’t hear it. But that’s pretty easy to fix — if you can’t tell if it’s okay to land, circle until you are sure, then arrest the a-hole who scrambled you.
    4. X-rays are doing a pretty good job filtering for bombs large enough to create a fuselage hole large enough to change a jet’s trajectory. They may not, however, stop the lady seated next to you from catching YOU on fire with a jimmied electronic device. But trying to shame her isn’t going to stop her.
    5. There is also the distinct possibility that five passengers can synch their electronic devices to blow up in synchrony. They will need to all sit near each other, so if you see multiple people, all near each other, looking knowingly/nodding to each other, then pressing a button on their electronic devices, kiss your grits goodbye ;0). Or, if you are a true geek, have YOUR e-device primed up to scramble all signals coming from electronic devices during descent! The airplane is NOT in your bandwidth. I propose that we all develop, and download, and app that does just this … senses that you are moving over 100 mph, decelerating, and automatically scrambles signals coming from other devices within X feet of you. At the very least, it keeps Douche Bag from telling his ride he’s landing before you can, and you don’t even have to announce that he’s viewing porn, or that you are near climax ;).

  7. Given that the rule was implemented by the FCC to protect legacy cellular networks on the ground, not by the FAA for flight safety purposes, and thousands of flights a day operate with at least one device not in flight mode, without any demonstrable threat to flight safety, busybody passengers ought to shut the blank up.

  8. Who cares? It’s an imaginary safety issue. Flight attendants don’t care because they’re on planes so much commuting or flying non rev that they do it too. Every FA I’ve sat next to on United always used their phone after the cabin door is closed before take off. It’s boring.

  9. This is totally not a safety or avionics interference issue, it’s to help the cellular networks. The hand-off process from one cell site to another isn’t designed to have 200 devices in very close proximity switch from one cell site to another and then another in very short order. Times every plane in the sky overhead in that city at that one time. With the many unlimited plans and far fewer roaming phone plans, this shouldn’t be as big of an issue for the mobile carriers, but airlines have been incredibly slow to adjust. At least a phone on in the plane won’t look like a Russian missile to the air defense system as some fellow travelers have claimed.

  10. A rule is a rule. And whether or not you agree with the rule, you should follow it. There are too many entitled jerks on airplanes as it is. Put down the damn phone and read a book. I recently sat across the aisle from a man who was on the phone throughout the entire boarding process including a 40 minute delay at the gate. When the door was closed, he was told by no less than 3 flight attendants to turn off his phone. Except, he could not be bothered. Although he was not speaking English, I assumed from his demeanor that it was not an emergency. Just another entitled jerk on a plane.

  11. As other commenters have suggested, not such a big deal to worry about.
    OTOH, the guy who insists his ability to finish an article or email is incorrect…you can finish reading in airplane mode.
    And the yahoo on LGA-MIA who called the ride while descending…I can’t imagine the ride arrived outside baggage pick-up any more accurately than it did when everyone else started firing up their phones when wheels touched the ground. Between taxiing, deplaning, walking past dozens of gates (not quite sure how large MIA is), your ride had 15-45 minutes to catch up to you. Which you saved yourself around 5 minutes, had you just waited and texted. (Aimed at the other passenger on the LGA-MIA flight, not any particular commenter here.)

  12. I hate it when people can’t follow rules. This rule could (but I doubt) endanger us so it makes me a bit mad. I’m at peace on this though. I realized that if you don’t turn on airplane mode your cell phone will spend most of the flight searching for a signal and running your battery down so that is enough self imposed justice for me.

  13. I guess it is too much to expect in this day and age to expect people to just follow the rules. As a frequent flyer I can not understand the need to continue to use your cell phone as the plane is taking off or landing. Nothing can not be that important.

    Many times I have asked people to turn off cell boy were they rude. They looked at me like I was nuts. But they did turn off phone.

  14. I look forward to being able to power down my phone ASAP and put it away for the duration. I don’t want to hear from anyone, or pester anyone, for a few blessed hours. I understand that many with cellphone addiction just can’t do this, even when told not to.

  15. If it was a safety issue – like when they first tried to pretend that it might affect flight controls – then it would be important and should be stated that way so we all made sure we were safe.

    But since it’s clearly not a safety issue and therefore another pointless authoritarian rule, then mind your own damn business. We don’t need anyone micro-managing how we conduct our lives using our digital assistants which we can damn well have in our hands any time we want to do whatever we want that isn’t disturbing others. Airlines have justifiably drawn the line on phone calls in flight which is probably a good idea.

  16. To date and to the best of my knowledge there is still no evidence that outgoing phone rf has ever affected aircraft electronics. It’s a precaution that has arguably overstayed its cautionary probation period.
    On this basis I would not ask him to switch his phone off, the flight would have continued and no doubt landed safely.

  17. Sat next to a guy on a MCO to PHL flight who made Facetime Audio phone calls during the entire flight. Must not be that hard to find a workaround for the in-flight wifi’s restriction on “streaming” or other VOIP services. During drink service, one FA told another “that guy’s talking on his phone” but neither intervened.

  18. It’s a very, very small risk that a defective mobile device, when sending data/voice to the cell tower, will broadcast out-of-band noise that will interfere with the avionics (very sensitive receivers) on the plane. Takeoff and especially landing are when the safety of all on board depend on the correct operation of the avionics. That said, I feel just fine ratting out the entitled/selfish jerk to the FA. Who gave you (the jerk) the right to put all the other souls onboard at ANY risk of a crash?

    SE_Rob (PHD in EE, Licensed Amateur Radio Operator, former Private Pilot)

  19. “mind your own business” That statement seems to come from people who feel entitled to whatever rules they think are worth following. It’s like the bully in the classroom, who thinks his s#{t doesn’t stink. Or the punk who rides in the HOV lane because he can. Neither I nor the people around you want to hear your boring conversation. Grow up and turn your pacifier off for the flight…for God sake.

  20. I’m a vaguely nervous flier. It makes me anxious when my seat mate doesn’t put their phone on airplane mode. It is selfish and inconsiderate behaviour.

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