Ask LH: Do Electronic Devices Really Need To Be Turned Off During Takeoff And Landing?

Ask LH: Do Electronic Devices Really Need To Be Turned Off During Takeoff And Landing?

Dear Lifehacker, When you fly on an aeroplane, you get told to turn off and stow portable electronics, but is this really necessary? Sometimes I leave my phone on during take off on purpose by accident and nothing ever happens. Is this rule B.S. or is there really something to it? Sincerely, Flummoxed Flyer

Title photo remixed from originals by andersphoto and Stasys Eidiejus (Shutterstock)

Dear FF,

The quick answer is no, electronic devices do not pose a problem so long as everything is going smoothly on the flight. It’s when there are issues that your electronic devices can potentially make things worse. Regulation states that various electronic devices can cause interference with the plane and therefore need to be turned off for the safety of everybody onboard. But as you’ve probably noticed, your iPod and Kindle alone are not going to interfere with the plane’s navigation and communication systems. The potential problem is the combined interference of many devices. In some cases this is pretty much B.S. and in some cases it isn’t. Here’s why.

Your Electronics Can (Technically) Interfere With the Planes…


Electronic devices can cause Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), and this was a very real concern when aeroplanes relied on Non-Directional Beacon (NDB) navigation. NDB navigation uses AM signals which are pretty susceptible to RFI. That said, most modern aircrafts don’t use NDB navigation anymore in favour of VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) navigation. To put this in perspective, AM radio signals fall in the medium frequency (MF) range and VHF stands for very high frequency. The lower the radio frequency range the more susceptible it tends to be to RFI. VHF, being by name a set of very high frequencies, doesn’t have that problem nearly as much. Basically, VHF doesn’t really care that your iPod is blasting music into your noise-cancelling headset, because those devices don’t cause much interference. A pile of laptops, on the other hand, could offer up a more significant amount of RFI. For the plane’s flight crew to go over each and every device that could possible pose a problem would basically be a waste of time, and that would also require extensive testing by authorities like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It’s just easier to lump everything into one category and request that you turn it off.…But That Risk Is Really Low…


But if some electronics do pose a risk, why aren’t more planes having issues? As seen in Myth Busters, aeroplanes are shielded to prevent this problem. Basically, it’s not much an issue at all. What’s even better for your in-flight portable electronics are Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) and GPS, which are both more accurate than VOR and operate on higher frequencies (meaning less RFI-related issues). When these systems are the norm your portable electronics will be basically irrelevant to the plane’s navigation, even though they pretty much are already.

So is there actually a problem? No, not really, but it all comes down to an emergency precautions. As take off and landing account for half of flying accidents (PDF), it’s important to have emergency communications available. Some of the aircraft emergency frequencies are in the lower range, which is a range more susceptible to interference. While the plane is shielded from interference, you have to ask yourself this: if your pilot needs to communicate on these lower frequencies in the event of an emergency, do you want to risk the chance of RFI?

…and You Should Just Deal With It

Ultimately this risk appears to be very low and you have very little to worry about, but as comedian Louis C.K. notes, you’re flying through the sky in a chair. That’s pretty awesome. In the near-ish future we’ll have better technology in most aircrafts and we’ll tell our grandchildren about the arduous ten minutes of flight in which we could read on our Kindles (to which they’ll ask, “What’s a Kindle?”). While it’s barely an issue right now, it’s not one you may want to risk, and your time without electronics is just a blip during one day of your life. Let it go and take the time to enjoy a quiet moment with your thoughts while flying through the sky in a chair.

Cheers, Lifehacker


  • The other original reason is that because take off and landing are the most dangerous times in an aircraft they want your electronic goods stowed away so they don’t fly around or get in people’s way if there is an accident. This rule of course was before tiny iPods etc and mostly related to giant business laptops

    Completely ridiculous I know.

  • Thanks Adam, I’ve often wondered about the logic of no electronics on take-off and landing! I’ve seen quite a few shows that reckon it’s not necessary, but this explanation makes plenty of sense! #]

  • Another plus for very fast trains, I can be productive for the entire trip from as soon as I board to the time I disembark, without the need to have my laptop screened either.

  • There is also the argument that you should be alert to what is happening around you which is not possible if you iPod is drowning everything out and your concentrating on a game or just have your eyes shut.

  • No they don’t. I have my Private Pilots Licence and fly Cessna 172’s, one of which has a glass cockpit with autopilot.

    My headset (Bose A20), which has bluetooth, for the very purpose of connecting to your mobile. I never turn off my phone, and have used it to make phone calls in flight, for example to call up an airports weather conditions where it is not available via radio.

    I also use my iPhone and iPad for navigation with paper maps as backup.

    Ultimately, it comes down to the crew wanting your undivided attention during the most dangerous parts of the flight, being takeoff and landing. If something happens, they want to be able to communicate with the passengers.

    • I think this is the best reason. Just saying “pay attention please!” simply doesn’t work – forcing everyone to turn off their distraction-devices and be a bit more aware of their surroundings during the statistically most dangerous parts of the flight is worth the hassle.

  • Adam is right, even though the evidence of the reasons behind the ban are sparse and non-definitive, people just need to let it go. It’s a global safety standard, nothing less. Airlines and their staff are simply following these.

  • Just like to say. Bulls#$t. If planes were susceptible to RF, Ground crew wouldnt have radios. Also their would be none, 0, nada coverage of any frequency as the base stations put out significantly higer signals. Electical equipment does have electromagnetic field but on anything that runs on batteries its gonna be maxing out at approx 5-10 milligauss on direct contact. at approx 1-2ft its gonna be almost if not nothing.

  • I’ve always thought of it as a “pay attention” thing. Even if the device doesn’t interfere, when people don’t have headphones on or aren’t looking at little screens, they will be faster to react in an emergency situation. And statistically speaking, emergency situations are far more likely to happen on take-off and landing.

  • For f*#k sake its 10 minutes or so either side of a flight. Does it make any difference that you cant use a phone or iWank device for that 10 minutes?

  • If it was truely necessary, it would be a requirement to remove the battery or check them in.
    It’s not so it isn’t.

    taking water on a flight, or a can of underarm, now that’s serious business.

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