Why Your Phone Can't Get A Signal When You Get Off A Plane

Why Your Phone Can't Get a Signal When You Get Off a Plane

Ever lost a call the second you walked off a plane? Or noticed that your phone can't seem to find anything to connect to in the first place? Wired took a look at why that is.

Photo by Alan Levine

Speaking with AT&T's Construction and Engineering Vice President Paula Doublin, Wired breaks it down like so:

The average mobile phone is programmed to search out the five closest antenna signals. When you're driving in your car this system lets you switch from antenna to antenna — usually without losing your connection. But in an airport, things can go haywire, especially as you're switching from the powerful outdoor "macro" antennas that you've connected to on the tarmac to the smaller indoor devices that AT&T has tucked all over the airport.

For travellers, that means that the moments after you walk inside an airport are where you're most likely to have a dropped call. Doublin hates it when that happens. "The in-building has to have dominance; it has to be stronger than that macro signal that's coming in through the windows" she says. "When that macro signal is stronger coming in through the windows, that's when you're going to drop a call, because your handset is sitting there in conflict."

So, if you're struggling to get a signal, move into the terminal a bit more, or get outside to wait it out while your phone figures out what's going on. Hopefully your phone will figure out what's going on.

Why Your Phone Freaks Out When You Get Off a Plane [Wired]


    Lucky we don't have AT&T in Australia, huh, you lazy jerks?

    Generally, mobile phone towers don't cover runways in Australia. There is no point. A runway is a massive open area that occasionally has small groups of ppl move through it very quickly. The terminals use internal small range repeaters to cover all the internal space. So none of this macro micro crap and a generally irrelevant article...

      Can't agree with that. I've never had a problem with my phone working as soon as we've landed on longer runways in Australia.

        Depends on the airport. You will get overlapping coverage from towers covering nearby roads. I'm saying that they do not specifically make sure you have reception when on a runway.

          The airport is just like any road, It has coverage, all signals will overlap in some respect in different freq. Your comment is generally irrelevant.

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