What is “airplane mode,” and how does pressing a button to use it on an iPhone affect a 160-foot long, 100,000-pound airplane?

Why it matters: All flight passengers are asked to switch their phones to airplane mode while traveling on an airplane. Airplane mode shuts off the phone’s transmissions, disabling the ability to connect to cellular networks.

What they’re saying: Many people believe phones may interfere with the signals needed by the pilot in order to fly the plane, affecting overall safety. However, according to Live Science, there has been no substantial evidence proving their interference.

  • While there isn’t much proof, a pilot told Business Insider it’s better to be safe than sorry, saying, “It’s never been proven that a mobile phone signal has interfered with the navigation performance of the aircraft. But just because it’s never happened doesn’t mean it will never happen.”
  • Retired U.S. Airways pilot John Cox advises passengers to take caution, saying, “A mobile phone in an airplane can cause problems with the cellular network as they may be communicating with multiple towers,” per USA Today.
  • Details: While the Federal Communications Commission still has a ban on mobile phone usage on planes, travelers can pay for in-flight internet access on a growing number of airlines, such as Delta and United.
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  • The FCC first put the ban in place in 1991, modifying it in 2007 to allow laptops and gaming electronics on planes. In 2013, they proposed “allowing mobile telephone conversations above 10,000 feet, adopting practices followed in Europe and elsewhere” but it was shot down, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The big picture: While using your phone without airplane mode may not crash your flight, it’s never a bad idea to be too cautious.