They actually did a Mythbusters on this and found that, yes, cell phones interfere with the instruments. It won't make the plane crash but it doesn't mean it doesn't have the potential to cause problems. I think this is a more of a 'best practices' policy than something that needs to be adhered to 100% to ensure a safe flight. [sorry tumblr won't let me include the link, but it's episode 49]
Innnnteresting. Yeah, these pilots didn’t seem like the ultimate authority on the subject, but they had a small plane full of seven people with their iPhones up on takeoff and didn’t seem concerned (in fact, they encouraged us to keep them on — private jet pilots are fucking cowboys, man).
Overall, I agree with Bilton’s thesis — if they can take the pains to discard our moisturizer tubs, they can easily force us to check our gadgets. And they don’t, so the threat is negligible enough to just scrap the rule, no?
The most conclusive evidence, for me, in support of Nick’s theory is that every single time I fly, I see at least one person ignore this law, and nothing happens. I’d estimate on any given flight, despite the warning, there are probably about 40 cell phones not turned off, and another 40 in airplane mode. No one actually turns off their devices, and nothing happens. Ever. If it could cause a problem, it would be causing it already. May as well just legalize it.
One time I flew on a private jet (yes, everything about it was incredible, especially the microfleece blankets) and the pilot and copilot gave us the rundown of what the flight would hold and the basic safety procedures. They didn’t mention anything about electronic devices, so I asked if I should turn off my iPhone (after all, this was a small jet — more likely to be felled by deadly cell phone signals than a giant commercial plane, right?).
Nope, they said — the gadgets-on-takeoff thing was something commercial airlines started demanding before truly looking into their effect on the planes’ radar. Which is exactly why they don’t really enforce it. So I kept my phone on until the signal faded, then switched to airplane mode — but only so the battery wouldn’t get drained from signal-searching.