Why Do I Have to Put My Phone in Airplane Mode?

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When you fly on an airplane these days, you more than likely have access to Wi-Fi. That means you can peruse Facebook, catch up on the latest trending topics on Twitter, feel bad about yourself after two minutes on Pinterest, and even stream music and movies (on certain airlines).

With such impressive in-flight technology improvements, why are cell phones still limited to airplane mode only?

The assumption has long been that mobile frequencies could interfere with the plane’s systems, causing them to malfunction to the point of crashing the plane. While that may be a stretch, phone signals can—and do—interfere with the radio frequency. It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it’s brief; Condé Nast Traveler describes it as “the sound of a CD skipping.” Still, when pilots and air traffic control are trying to communicate vital information, even a split second of confusion is too risky.

However, there may be a loophole, if airlines decide to allow it. That amazing Wi-Fi we were just talking about? It can be used to make calls, too. Most airlines have banned the practice, not because of signal or interference issues, but because of common human courtesy issues: No one wants to sit next to someone who spends a three-hour flight loudly chatting to someone on Skype. So while it may be technically possible, you probably won't be making phone calls from your window seat any time soon.

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