Do I REALLY need to take offf my iPod during takeoff?
October 5, 2007 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Am I going to bring down the plane if I listen to my iPod during takeoff and landing?

I'm familiar with the standard flight attendant instructions to remove and stow all electronic devices to avoid "interference."

At the risk of seeming overly dense, how could my iPod interfere with anything? And if it does cause interference, why is it okay to listen to it during the flight itself, but not during takeoff or landing? I remember during the 80s getting the same warning about my cassette player, which again, didn't seem to make much sense.

Am I dooming my fellow passengers if I keep my iPod playing during takeoff and landing?
posted by Sheppagus to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Last night I flew two flights with my iPhone on (albeit in Airplane mode) for takeoff and landing. I've flown with my iPod playing before too. Clearly, I'm still here.

The only plausible explanation I've ever heard is that the crystals inside a lot of electronics can sometimes make contact with a metal chassis, which will amplify whatever frequency the crystal works on and cause some interference. However, I can't say whether or not that's true.
posted by olinerd at 11:55 AM on October 5, 2007

Like with cell phones, I can't imagine you're gonna bring down the plane (I generally don't turn my phone off, just silent, and I'm still here after 10+ flights). However, keep in mind that defying the instructions of a flight attendant can be translated as a federal offense, and the heap of trouble you'd get yourself into doing so would probably delay the plane, which might doom some of your passengers in other ways.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:59 AM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that they want you to be able to hear emergency instructions during the most dangerous parts of the flight -- take off and landing. That's why the Virgin Atlantic people always bug me to open the window shutters, and why they turn off the in-flight entertainment.

Well, it's my theory, anyway.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:06 PM on October 5, 2007

I think it's still just to do with the idea that electronic devices might interfere with flight instruments or ATC radio. Which is bullshit.

Mythbusters showed that not only will cellphones not cause interference, but they won't cause a gas station to explode either...
I flew internationally (the night before the 'London liquid bomb plot') and they didn't seem bothered by my (or anyone around me) using an mp3 player during takeoff.

That said, I agree with Carol Anne - if it's a rule, why bother breaking it just for a few more minutes of boredom? Airlines are more than likely to be dicks about every little thing still, so why risk it?
posted by opsin at 12:10 PM on October 5, 2007

Well my cellphone does make any speakers make some low freq static from time to time, like at 12:00am or prior to a call.
At the same time I've used a cellphone as a timer during test flights, right there in the cockpit next to the avionics, and nobody said anything about it and we didn't crash.
posted by spacefire at 12:11 PM on October 5, 2007

Potsmokinghippieoverlord is right. Takeoff and landing are the most dangerous parts of the flight, so they want to be able to get your full attention quickly, if necessary. There is no way an iPod could interfere with the aircraft or its crew, other than distracting you when everyone else is rushing for the inflatable exit slides.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:12 PM on October 5, 2007

According to this Ask the Pilot column, Potsmokinghippieoverlord is correct.
posted by lalex at 12:17 PM on October 5, 2007

According to Boeing, the jury is out. But this resource is certainly more insightful than CYA drivel from the airlines.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:22 PM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I only turn off my iPod when asked to do so, and I'm only asked maybe 10% of the time.
posted by mullacc at 12:25 PM on October 5, 2007

I only turn off my iPod when asked to do so, and I'm only asked maybe 10% of the time.

I mean asked directly by a flight attendant. I've had flight attendants ask me to put my seat-back up and completely ignore the iPod I was listening to at the time.
posted by mullacc at 12:28 PM on October 5, 2007

M.C. Lo-Carb! has it IMO. They certainly want the window shutters open so you can quickly and easy orientate yourself in the event of problems during landing and takeoff, I imagine electronic devices and other distractions are discouraged for exactly the same reason. The "electronic interference" line just seems like a simple and believeable excuse to roll out in the event of any resistance.
posted by fire&wings at 12:30 PM on October 5, 2007

Sometimes they make regulations overly broad to make them more feasible to enforce. Is it a cell phone, or a radio, or an MP3 player? If one of those might take down the plane, maybe the minor inconvenience to the users of the others might be worth it, if it makes it easier for the attendants.
posted by smackfu at 12:31 PM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Actually, opsin, that myth was only partially busted. There was intereference detected with an 800-900 Mhz phone in the faraday cage, though they didn't seem to test it with shielding.
posted by rmless at 12:32 PM on October 5, 2007

Electronics that cause a lot of interference (like my cell phone) have the opportunity to interfere with the avionics, also. Not so much a problem way in the back of the plane, but I have experienced this as pilot-in-command. Nothing dangerous, just "what's that annoying buzzing?"
posted by backseatpilot at 12:34 PM on October 5, 2007

The consensus on that Mythbusters episode seemed to be that interference was unlikely, but that since they were getting some marginal effects from the 800-900mHz phone, it was safer to just keep all electronics off. The FAA can't test every single piece of consumer electronics, and really, you'd rather be safe and bored for a few minutes than not.
posted by fnerg at 12:40 PM on October 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm with potsmokinghippieoverlord. Here's an older Ask the Pilot:
[A]irlines are erring on the safe side. And a laptop, like any other carry-on, must be stowed during takeoff and landing to prevent it from becoming a 200-mile-per-hour projectile.

Remember that some devices, like Walkman or Discman players, are prohibited during takeoff and landing not necessarily because of interference, but so passengers are able to hear P.A. announcements and instructions in the event of trouble. In this spirit, maybe airlines should demand the removal of earplugs and wake up all the sleeping passengers, but it seems they've drawn the line at listening to music.
I imagine that your iPod, inteference-causing or not, would also become a 200 mph projectile if something bad happened.

See also.
posted by kathryn at 12:51 PM on October 5, 2007

Lately on Westjet the request has become "Please take off your headphones and place them in your lap" - they don't even ask to turn the actual device off. It's definitely so you can hear what's going on around you and hear emergency instructions, as previously mentioned.
posted by pocams at 1:11 PM on October 5, 2007

I was sitting next to a pilot and playing PSP one time and not paying attention to the announcements. The pilot commented on me not turning it off, which I would have done had I been paying attention. I asked him, "If you really thought this thing could cause problems to this plane, would you willingly fly these things for a living?" He smiled, rolled his eyes and said, "Hey, it's the rules." I turned it off.
posted by probablysteve at 1:14 PM on October 5, 2007

iPod are one thing. Flight attendants don't seem to get too riled up over them.

Cellphones on the other hand... well, considering I have to ask people to put their BlackBerrys under their chairs during conference calls to avoid the godawful crackle-squeak noise that comes over the polycom or any computer speakers--I can imagine they might actually cause a little interference.
posted by Gucky at 1:17 PM on October 5, 2007

It didn't cause a proble when I did it on a recent flight.

And really, think about it. If it seriously posed a risk, don't you think they would prohibit you from carrying it on-board, just like they prohibit knives, lighters, liquids, political tee-shirts, too-short skirts and too-low necklines?
posted by browse at 1:28 PM on October 5, 2007

Nthing all the people that said it's about safety. The interference/bring down the plane thing was a canard; the airlines thought it would make people take the warnings to put them away more seriously. Guess they thought wrong.

If you're plugged in, you can't hear emergency warnings, and if the plane lurches to a stop, your laptop/crackberry/phone becomes a missile. Not so bueno, that.
posted by pdb at 1:47 PM on October 5, 2007

Mythbusters showed...

That's right, Mythbusters is a show. I wouldn't take their hijinx as proof of anything your life may depend upon. Apologies to asavage.

I've heard that the cell phone thing originally had to do with the fact that once you got up off the ground, you would suddenly come into contact with multiple cell sites all over the place, and that could confuse or bog down their networks. The cell sites are placed to provide you with service on the ground and while there is overlap between their coverage areas, the system isn't really designed for someone to turn on their phone with an unobstructed line of sight to 8 of them at once.

That's what I heard, anyway.
posted by scarabic at 3:27 PM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

The interference/bring down the plane thing was a canard; the airlines thought it would make people take the warnings to put them away more seriously.

Wasn't the original restriction a direct result of a plane going down for mysterious reasons?
posted by smackfu at 4:31 PM on October 5, 2007

It's all about you not being zoned out listening to the latest choons when something has the highest potential to go wrong, i.e. during takeoff and landing. Seriously, it's like 20 minutes either side. Not being plugged in to your headphones for this short time is a service to the crew and the people around you. There's a whole lot of bullshit attendant with flight in the post 9/11 era, not least crap like taking your shoes off in the xray line, but this is pretty genuine. Serious accidents are way more likely to happen while taxiing, taking off and landing than they are at 37,000 feet, so being aware and listening at this point is a good thing. Unfortunately, airlines are barred by the law of obscure corporate communications from being reasonably honest about these things, so the 'interference' argument is always rolled out.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:38 PM on October 5, 2007

While I agree that the obvious thing is that passengers need to hear instructions if something goes wrong, Carnegie Mellon University thinks that the electronics themselves can cause navigation errors. These are probably most dangerous at low altitudes where there are things to run into; hence, the concern about take off and landing.
posted by procrastination at 5:17 PM on October 5, 2007

I flew on Aer Lingus a couple of years ago, and the stewardess kept mentioning everyone having to turn off "laser-controlled devices". I'm unsure of what that would be, but I figured it would be mighty dangerous...
posted by chookibing at 6:45 PM on October 5, 2007

One theory I have is that while one or two iPods, DSs, PSPs, etc. might cause only minimal interference at best, if every passenger on a plane of 200+ people were using one of those devices at the same time, it could cause problems. Nothing to back this up, mind you.
posted by phaded at 10:30 PM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I once flew across the country with an active cell phone on the whole time -- without even knowing about it, granted.

My gut tells me that if there were even the slightest risk of an active cell-phone bringing down a plane, they wouldn't be allowed on board under any circumstances.

But hey, its just a few hours before you're back on the ground. You can afford to be out-of-touch for that long, can't you?
posted by Avenger at 11:21 PM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

As everybody said, if bringing down the plane was an important possibility, electronic devices would probably be banned. Still, never hurts to be conservative with this kind of thing. Wikipedia seems to think that messing with the cell towers ( as scarabic said) is the real reason they ask you to turn of your phone during flight. On the other hand, it appears that a new system is being developed to allow mobile phone use in flight. Here's a quote from the people who make it :
The OnAir airborne system is to include a lightweight GSM pico-cell and a network control unit which will ensure that passengers’ mobile phones may be switched on in the aircraft without generating interference to the aircraft systems or to the ground mobile networks in compliance with certification and regulatory requirements.
I'm only guessing here, but perhaps putting the base station inside the plane means that your phone can keep its power output low, hence possible interference is minimized. Amusingly, the British already have a petition to ban this, which I fully agree with.

All this being said, if the plane people ask you to do something safety-related and you refuse because you think you know better, you're a jerk and I really don't want to be on a plane with you. Having this kind of argument with a flight attendant while in the air is stupid.
posted by the number 17 at 1:04 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

It is doubtful that an iPod interferes with avionics in a commercial airliner. Some electronics do interfere, but I've noticed that on flights landing in Amsterdam I've never been asked to put away my iPod. The same flight crew, however, insists that I turn it off and stow it on the return flight to the States.

The "real" reason does seem to be as potsmokinghippieoverlord has it -- the safety argument has to do with being situationally aware and able to respond to instructions. I assume they hide that behind a blanket prohibition of electronics to avoid scaring people. If the safety spiel told the whole truth about passenger evacuations, people would panic. I can just hear it now:
In the unlikely event of a crash, the unused fuel in this aircraft will turn the entire plane into a giant fireball in 90 seconds or less. To survive, the same people who moved like recalcitrant cattle when it was time to board will have to exit the plane twenty times as fast as they boarded. Put your stupid bags completely away, close the tray, put your seat up, take your headphones off, and pay attention! It might save your life!
I bet "fear of flying" programs would do really well if that were the spiel, though.
posted by fedward at 8:01 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Uncle Cecil has also chimed in on the topic of interference.

Apparently there have been accidents where mobile phones were implicated.

Here is a report on possible interference from personal electronics, by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, you might want to read it.
posted by the number 17 at 8:48 AM on October 6, 2007

« Older Please don't pass the cauliflower: HPV   |   Not exactly what I meant... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.