Millennials may be the last generation that remembers when every electronic device had to be turned off before a plane could take off. Over the last few years, airlines have loosened restrictions allowing people to use their personal electronic devices in the air. As it turns out, that change may have happened too soon.
Most people scoff at the idea that their tiny phone could actually have an effect on a giant machine like a modern commercial airliner. The truth, as it often is, is rather boring. While most systems on a plan can’t be affected by a cellphone, certain screens in the cockpit can. If the screen that displays airspeed or horizon becomes compromised, it can cause catastrophic consequences.
These problematic screens were all created by a company called Honeywell. Honeywell claims that they have never heard of a screen failing midflight, but as the Insurance Journal is quick to point out: “When airlines and Honeywell argued that radio signals were unlikely to cause safety problems during flight, though, the FAA countered that it had run tests on in-service planes — and the jets flunked.”
Yes, new monitors exist that are immune to these effects, but the switch has not been completed on all the planes that are still in use. That means while it is unlikely, it is possible to end up on a regular commercial flight that is still prone to cell phone interference.
A new report by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that roughly 1,300 of these older planes are still in regular operation. The regulating body gave airlines until November 2020 to update those planes, or ground them.
While it may be annoying to turn your phone off during a flight, it’s certainly worth prioritizing safety over a small inconvenience. The good news is that these issues are being fixed. So if flying without your phone is really a terrible inconvenience, you can rest easy knowing that the end is in sight.