Why must my phone be in the off position?!

Got back from Hawaii this morning. Two flights out last week, two flights back last night and this morning. Four doses of airline-speak.

I have boarded, deplaned, stowed my belongings, found the card in the seat-pocket in front of me, and have been careful because items in the overhead bins do tend to shift during flight.

I have watched others pre-board, and pondered the unlikely event of a water landing.

I have returned my seat and tray table to their full, upright, and locked position.

I have been reminded that it is a federal offense to tamper with, disable, or destroy any lavatory smoke detector.

And I have turned my cell phone to the off position. Two questions: 1) Who in the world came up with this phraseology? 2) What precisely does it mean?

It’s bad enough that flight attendants do tend to overuse certain words that they do say repeatedly because they apparently do think that it sounds more officious and they do realize that we do have a choice of airlines and they do appreciate us choosing whatever airline this is. They really do…

But, I mean, what is this “off position”? Switches can be in an off position, but many electronic devices don’t have switches. They have some magic button that you hold until the device becomes dark and lifeless. Is said device now in the “off position”? Even more frightening, the average cell phone user has no idea that while their phone is “off” (meaning screen dark? or maybe silent ring?) it is still waking up periodically to check the availability of nearby cell towers, in case someone wants to call in. And with all due respect to the enormous amount of radio noise my Bose headphones must be generating, it can’t be within a couple orders of magnitude of what half the cell phones in the cabin are probably doing in the “off position.”

Now if they just did something like this… “Ladies and gentlemen, your cell phones generate radio signals even when they may appear to you to be off. Will you please do whatever magic incantation you have to do to your phone to make it so that the phone cannot receive incoming calls? When you have done that, your phone will be in radio silence, and will not interfere with any of the radio or telecommunication instruments in this big bird. Oh yes… and we do hope that you do forgive us if we put airline-speak in the off position.”

3 thoughts on “Why must my phone be in the off position?!

  1. My phone has a special “Airplane Mode” that turns off the radio, but still allows me to utilize the games, organizer, mp3 and other non-intrusive functions. I have at times wondered if I am still in violation of airline policy since I can’t be sure if my “Airplane Mode” fits under the amorphous definition of “off position.” It would put my mind at ease if the airlines were to take your proposed approach.

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of what they say is mandated by the FAA. I agree with what you say, but if they’re required to state certain things a certain way, they’re not going to risk their jobs over it.

  3. My cell phone is my watch, very inconvenient when I fly anywhere. I’ve heard that the problem isn’t so much what the phones do to the airplane, but what they do to cell towers when you might have hundreds within line-of-sight.

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