Things That Make You Go “Hmmm”: iPads on Airplanes Edition


I just landed in Boston on my way to Martha’s Vineyard for a wedding tomorrow. Of course I brought my iPad with me. (It’s how I took this picture and wrote this post during a flight that was shorter than the time it took for me to get to the airport and through security.) It was a 38 minute flight. For the first ten minutes I could not use the iPad. For the last ten minutes I was told to turn it off as well. That left 18 minutes or so that the iPad was “legit” and usable. This has never made all that much sense to me. While I understand them asking us to put devices in airplane mode so the radios do not interfere, I can’t imagine my sleeping iPad having the least impact on the plane or its functioning during takeoff and landing.

It is annoying, but isn’t a big deal. Then it occurred to me that there are a number of airlines that are replacing all of the manuals and navigation maps that pilots use with iPads. That’s all good and well but if an iPad in airplane mode in the passenger cabin can be problematic wouldn’t one in even closer proximity to the plane’s navigational equipment be an issue? Or maybe the pilots aren’t allowed to use THEIRS during takeoff and landing either.


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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

7 Comments on "Things That Make You Go “Hmmm”: iPads on Airplanes Edition"

  1. No need to “Hmmmmmmmm”, Dan. The primary use of those documents stored on iPad — pre-flight checklists and such — are ground-based. You can be sure that for flight-critical issues there’ll be paper backups, and during the take-off and landing the pilots will have their hands full with the controls, not swiping or flipping through navigation maps. Hint: if you’re 15 minutes from landing and find it necessary to be looking at nav maps… you’ve got other problems!

    • “Hint: if you’re 15 minutes from landing and find it necessary to be looking at nav maps… you’ve got other problems”

      Sent from one iOS device or another

    • Okay but here’s my serious question- what possible issues could an iPad in airplane mode cause??? I seriously want to know.

      Sent from one iOS device or another

  2. Its not a single  Ipad in airplane mode.  Its potentially dozens of devices of all types, emitting EM energy.   The electromagnetic energy is additive, and everything with a clock emits.  Damaged or tampered-with devices with failing EMI gaskets emit more.  Common sense says a list of “approved” and “non-approved” would be somewhat problematic to enforce.     And the aircraft is full of wiring happy to act as an antenna.   With enough distractions on takeoff and landing, wouldn’t you rather eliminate an EMI-induced instrument issue even if the chance is slight?  At those altitudes, there is no time to investigate it.   And many crews these days (AirFrance 447) can’t handle distractions very well at any time.   

  3. I saw a news type show on this topic, but can’t remember the name of it, or a channel, so here’s hoping I don’t butcher this…

    Some older aircraft have antenna’s for some of the radio equipment, and some backup systems for main systems within the walls of the passenger compartments, or underneath it.  Some devices can mess with these and cause anomalous readings to show up in the cockpit.  Newer aircraft don’t have these issues, but the FAA makes the rules apply to all aircraft, to protect the older ones where it can be an issue.

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