A few weeks ago, I was on a flight into London City Airport when there was an announcement that we were going to be diverted to Southend Airport because of a broken down plane blocking the runway at London City. This was not good news (anyone who’s ever been to Southend will know why).
Immediately after the diversion was announced, a man sitting across the aisle from me pulled out his mobile phone to make a call. I must confess I was a little concerned. I remember thinking it doesn’t matter, there’s no way he’ll get a signal up here but, much to my surprise, after a few attempts he did manage to make a call to the person who was supposed to be meeting him at the airport.
My initial reaction was that it was dangerous for him to be using his mobile phone while the plane was in the air. After all it’s been drummed into all of us for years that we shouldn’t use mobile phones on planes because of flight safety but, it turns out, there is no danger of phones (or laptops or tablets for that matter) interfering with in-flight systems. There is no recorded instance of an air accident caused by a passenger's use of an electronic device. The whole thing is a myth. In fact, research has shown that anything up to 30% of passengers on a flight forget to turn off their mobiles anyway.
There are practical issues that may stop you using a phone on a plane - fairly obviously you could find yourself out of range of the nearest cell tower and, even if you do manage to get a signal, at high speed it is not easy for you to be handed off between different cells so you’ll lose connection. But these are not safety concerns.
As far back as 2008, Ofcom took steps to licence the use of mobile phones on planes. The FCC has also recently taken similar steps. Although some airlines say they are responding, it is very odd that we are still told to switch to flight mode or turn off portable electronic devices during take-off and landing. Maybe the airlines are concerned that passengers don’t want to listen to other people talking on their phones.
Incidentally, the broken plane was cleared from the runway and we were able to land at London City as originally planned; prompting, of course, another call from the man across the aisle.