Too Bright for No Lights: A Survey of Airplane Cell Phone Etiquette

Cara Fuller

The real question is . . . do you put your phone on airplane mode when flying? Or do you live life on the edge?

A flight can be a good time to sit back and relax, until the person next to you ups their screen brightness to supernova-status at 3 A.M. and the kid in 26B starts blasting Paw Patrol without headphones. These are the moments where true character is tested. 

If you’ve ever been faced with one of these annoying situations, you know the pain. One minute you’re enjoying your flight, the next you’re daydreaming about throwing the guy next to you out the window. And you wouldn’t feel that bad about it, either.

So what happens when you survey 1,000 Americans about their feelings towards cell phone etiquette and annoying habits on airplanes? You start judging humanity and considering road trips. Let’s dive on in.

Airplane Mode Etiquette & Facts

First things first, what does airplane mode do? Airplane mode temporarily disables cellular voice, data, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. When it’s time for takeoff and the flight attendant kindly asks everyone to put their phones on airplane mode, it might surprise you what actually happens (or doesn’t). 

  • 1 in 15 respondents doesn’t turn their phone off or put it on airplane mode. 
  • 67% turn their phones off and 27% put them on airplane mode. 
  • Males are almost twice as likely to ignore instructions about turning off their phone.

The reasons why respondents opt to rebel or obey vary: 

  • 83% of respondents turn their phones off because they worry it will negatively affect the flight.
  • Almost one in three people thinks keeping your phone on could cause the cabin to lose pressure. 
  • The most common belief across all age groups is that leaving your phone on could interfere with communication between the pilot and the ground.
  • One in five millennials thinks that leaving your phone on could cause the plane to crash, the most of any age group.

You can find numerous articles arguing that airplane mode makes a difference and doesn’t, so we asked Brett Manders, a seasoned pilot and author of the book “Behind the Flight Deck Door,” to clear the air. Manders claims that cell phones can and do interfere with radio transmissions. While it might not be an issue if a few individuals don’t turn on airplane mode, he states that “if everybody did that it most certainly would.” 

At the end of the day, if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asks us to do it, waiting an extra hour or two to text and tweet won’t be the end of the world. 

Annoying Habits on Planes (AKA Proof that Some People Shouldn’t Fly) 

Let’s just state the facts: some people are the worst. We mean you, Facebook-stalker on full brightness during lights-out time. When it comes to obnoxious habits in-flight, people have a lot of feelings about them and their punishments. Let’s break them down, shall we? 

Habit #1: Talking on the plane when grounded. Bothers 63% of people.

Sorry, Greg. No one cares what you ate for breakfast. When it comes to punishments for talking when grounded, the majority of people dislike it, but don’t consider it a serious offense.

  • 61% – No Punishment
  • 17% – Item confiscation for duration of flight
  • 20% – Fine ($20-$500)
  • 2% – Flight Ban

Habit #2: Playing music/movies/games without headphones on an airplane. Bothers 83% of people.

If you don’t have headphones and insist on using your device on full volume anyway, 83% of people hate your guts. Playing anything without headphones takes the cake for the most annoying habit, with 30% voting for item confiscation during flight. 

  • 48% – No Punishment
  • 30% – Item confiscation for duration of flight
  • 21% – Fine ($20-$500)
  • 1% – Flight Ban

Habit #3: Using a laptop/bright screen during lights out on an airplane. Bothers 64% of people.

There’s nothing worse than someone messing with your sleep. Even though most people don’t think there should be a punishment, this is one of those “read between the lines” situations, similar to wearing spandex in Walmart—AKA, when in doubt, don’t.

  • 65% – No Punishment
  • 21% – Item confiscation for duration of flight
  • 13% – Fine ($20-$500)
  • 1% – Flight Ban

If you’ve ever been an offender in any or all three of these categories, it’s never too late to change. And if change just isn’t in the cards, know that your fellow plane companions would gladly fine you $500, confiscate your devices, and ban you from flying in a heartbeat. In the meantime, enjoy the hateful glares.

Wherever you’re flying to, count on AT&T Internet to keep you connected when you reach your final destination. 

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