What kind of electronics can I use on an airplane?

Reported for forum change.

The general rule is that you are not allowed to use any electronic equipment that transmits as there is a theoretical danger that it could interfere with aircraft systems (I am not aware of any real world incidents caused by this but no doubt someone will be along to correct me!). In the UK airlines also tell you to turn off all electronic equipment during take-off and landing, presumably to eliminate the even smaller risk that your laptop or mp3 player may interfere with systems at these highly critical times. Not sure is this is universal.

You can turn on your iPhone but only in “Flight” mode where it does not attempt to connect to a network so, no, you can’t surf the internet at 30000 ft.

There have been previous threads on this including - as I remember - a lot of discussion on the extent of the real risk.

Some planes are now equipped with satellite internet access and offer free WiFi during a flight.

Assuming the OP is in the USA and interested in the FAA’s take on things …

As MarcusF said. If it transmits or receives a signal, that is verboten all the time. If it doesn’t transmit or receive, it’s permitted in cruise, but not during taxi out, takeoff, and landing plus the first few & last few minutes of flight. Like with tray tables being stowed.

With the recent exception that some airliners now have 802.11 WiFi aboard & you can use your WiFi connection (but no other transmitter/receivers, e.g. no bluetooth) when it’s available. And the aircraft access point automatically turns on at cruise and off for takeoff & landing.

And FYI, every airlines’ WiFi that I know of is set up to block all known VoIP arrangements, so no phoning from the plane. I’m not sure that’s a regulation, but the industry has pretty well agreed that having 50 boorish louts shouting into their cellphones throughout each flight would probably trigger more air rage than we could handle.

If you ever wonder, it’s always in the inflight magazine.

There has never been a documented case I am aware of that electronics interefered with aircraft operation.
-all devices sold in the USA (and most developed countries) must pass standards tests that limit general interference output so you don’t override the neighbour’s TV or a pilot’s instruments.
-logically, takeoff and landing are the most critical pars of the flight; if there are problems, it is hardest to recover safely. In this case, the airlines err on the side of caution, by suggesting ALL equipment that may pose a risk be turned off; even though they do not pose a risk.
-during takeoff and landing is when there may be an emergency evacuation. That’s why you cannot wear earphones. They may interfere with your ability to hear instructions. Plus, those long string wires many tangle you up when you hav to move fast.
-the FCC has always wanted cell phones disabled in flight. Cells are passed from tower to tower as the signal fades; plus, cells (especially in the old days of analog, where a signal used an entire channel) take up a channel on every tower that can hear them, whether that’s their home tower at that time or not; and need to hand off far faster than on the ground. A cell phone 7 miles up will have line of sight to substantially more towers than on the ground. Some bozo flying high over a city would use up a channel on every tower in a large metropolitan area. So the FCC and airlines have cooperated to forbid cell use in the air. The fact that a seat-back phone can generate several dollars a minute hasn’t hindered the situation. As some people found out on 9-11, despite these issues cells work just fine in the air.

Technically, you must only use devices that don’t broadcast. Now that some aircraft offer wifi, we see the hypocrisy of this logic once there’s a profit to be made. But really, without in-plane wifi or messing up cellular systems, what real broacast needs do you have? Break out the portable ham radio? CB, good buddy? Play bluetooth games between two iPads might be legit…

Are there still any U.S. airlines that have working in-flight phones? I don’t think I’ve seen an operational one in years.

There have been documented cases of electronics interfering with on-board avionics. From this past month, reported from the Air Transport Intelligence news (received in the Curt Lewis Flight Safety Information newsletter on March 10):

The problem occurred during certification, and not an actual in-flight event, but not all electronics are certified and approved for use in-flight. That’s where the concern is; that some electronics - even ones designed to be used in flight - can interfere with avionics is a fact. Without knowing and individually verifying each and every device brought on board by passengers, the risk is there. The size of the risk is debatable, but air safety people tend to want to err on the side of caution.

WiFi yes, free no.

I actually enjoy accessing the internet in flight, even skyped with my wife on a flight. (silently, of course, so as not to disturb the other passengers). AC power for my aging laptop would be a big help. One airline had AC outlets, but most (U.S.) still don’t.

Here’s an article from IEEE Spectrum suggesting that while use of electronics devices by passengers has not been known to cause an accident, such an occurrence is more and more likely.

Jacob’s Ladders are frowned upon, I bet.

Here is the detailed information from United Airlines. And while it doesn’t mention it, I seem to remember reading in the inflight magazine on one flight that Bluetooth technology was not allowed.

My wireless mouse.

ETA: a wireless mouse isn’t listed on either the Allowed or Not Allowed list on the United site.

Emirates allows the use of cell phones in-flight, and only restricts electronics usage during take-off and landing. Qantas permits text messaging, but not voice calling. To my knowledge, these permissions have not yet caused any issues.

Given this, what leg does the FAA have to stand on prohibiting the use of electronic devices besides custom and superstition?

Where did you get the idea that Qantas permits text messaging? The website says, “Flight mode capable mobile phones and portable digital assistants (PDAs) may be used inflight when the aircraft seat belt sign is extinguished after take-off and until we prepare the cabin for landing, provided the phone has been switched to flight mode before take-off. Flight mode enables you to operate the basic functions of your mobile phone or PDA while the transmitting function of your phone is switched off. You cannot make phone calls or send SMS whilst in flight mode.”

And I’ll bet that Emirates also only permits cell phone use in “flight mode.”

Read my post above. Devices that transmit can - and do - interfere with other electronic devices. This is a known fact, it happens all the time in electronics. On the ground, it’s not such a big deal, but 34 000 feet up, you kind of want things to work. In order to know that devices do not interfere with the critical electronics onboard an aircraft, the devices need to be tested accordingly, which essentially means testing each and every possible device, variation, configuration, etc. This takes both time and money (who’s going to pay for it? Will you, if it means ticket prices go up?) and since electronic devices change every few months, it’s nearly impossible to accomplish.

It’s not so much “custom and superstition” as “safest scenario given known science and the realities of the market”. The FAA and airlines aren’t doing this to piss customers off. They are doing this because they do not have sufficient evidence to show that allowing the use of transmitting electronic devices won’t kill you and everyone else on board. Even in my previous post, a Wi-Fi system designed for aircraft use caused problems with onboard flight displays. Would you really trust that nothing else a passenger might want to use won’t do the same?

Clearly, there must be some electric components that you can use, since the plane itself has some. To insure compatibility, they should be the same sort of components:

1). Co-designed, engineered and fabricated with the plane itself. Or at the very least, rigorously tested for compatibility with existing electronics, since I guess planes do change internal components from time to time without a complete redesign.

2). Carefully maintained by the plane’s pre-flight crew, run down a checklist to see it’s in working condition, not interfering, repaired if needed or disabled until repair if possible.

3). Under complete control of the pilot, to be disabled at his discretion, or whim, he is the Captain, after all. For example, I’d heard there’s a switch in the cockpit that shuts off the microwave ovens. Exactly why this is so I don’t know, perhaps if they suspect the microwave ovens are the source of a problem, they get to shut it off for safety’s sake…

It’s not likely that you own anything that meets those criteria, although the airlines may own something like that. Don’t know if you can purchase it 'tho. People have tested the effects of modern electronics on various pieces of equipment, airline, hospital, you name it. And yes they’ve often found no bad effect.

But they never said they tried a bootleg, refurbished 10 year old cell phone, with a Hong Kong knockoff battery, refurbished by a one-eyed guy in a sook in a bad quarter of a Bahrain marketplace. We can’t discriminate against the owner of that device while some kid plays with his toy, so we’ve come up with a generalized, “No electronics while inside giant metal bird – use them on the ground only”

OK, after more searching, I found that Emirates does allow passengers to use their GSM phones to place calls on selected planes equipped with a special mobile phone antenna and after the technology was certified by the aircraft manufacturer.

Considering that aircraft have satellite, internet, phone service, televinsion all over the aircraft; on one Virgin flight I crashed the seat-back screen, which seemed to be a linux computer; it displayed the Tux penguin as it rebooted… Not to mention microwave ovens, AC adaptors, and other assorted equipment…

The aircraft is awash in EMF. I suspect the interference failure detected mentioned above was not from passenger 59 using an iPhone; more likely they bombarded the display from a foot away with significantly more than the approved power level. After all, that’s how tests are done. iPhones and similar handhelds IIRC are about 20% to 10% of maximum allowed wifi power levels.

I suspect the truth is, there has not been a documented case of normal hand-held electronics interfering with aircraft operation. (As Dewey Finn mentions). But, I agree, where take-off and landing are concerned, it is best to err on the side of caution, at least when I’m in the plane. As for cells in the air, it’s annoying enough on the ground when we’re waiting. I’d hate to have to listen to that crap for 3 to 5 hours. (Thankfully, it would not happen on transoceanic trips…)

Interference used to be a big problem many decades ago, but with modern technology and stricter standards and lower powered devices, usualy the worst interference nowadays comes from presidential security jammers. (remember a story about some guy who was annoyed at his neighboor’s CB interfering with his TV reception… so he went and jammed a pin into the antenna coax and cut it off so it wasn’t visible… :smiley: )