A survey conducted by online travel agency Travelstart, finds that up to 15 mobile phones are left on during any international flight and around five phones left on during domestic flights.
The survey polled some 7,600 South African travellers, of which around 3% said they never turned their phones off during a flight, despite being asked to by cabin crew.
South African passengers are permitted to use personal electronic devices including mobile phones, e-readers and electronic tablets in flight-mode or an equivalent mode.
Flight Mode is a setting available on many mobile phones and other Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) that when engaged suspends the device’s signal transmitting functions – thereby disabling the device’s capacity to place or receive calls or text messages.
This is in contrast with Namibian survey which revealed that not a single respondent admitted to leaving their phone on during a flight. However, a fifth of respondents said they believed that nothing would go wrong if they left their phones on.
A similar study conducted in the US found that nearly one-third of passengers admitted to accidentally forgetting to turn off their smartphones and other electronic devices in flight.
The joint study by the Airline Passenger Experience Association and Consumer Electronics Association, found that, while more than 90% agree those flight attendant directions to turn off devices are clear, 59% say they always turn their devices completely off and 21% say they switch their devices to “airplane mode.”
Some 5% said they sometimes completely shut down their devices.
With hundreds of flights taking off and landing safely every day within South Africa alone, is leaving your phone on during a flight really that dangerous?
The question was posed by US-based news site The Huffington Post earlier this year to a number of travel experts, including pilots and travel editors.
The consensus appeared to indicate that this was a rule put in place at an earlier time when the science behind cellular communications was less understood.
One expert, commercial pilot and executive travel columnist Chris Cook said that he had never experienced any interference from mobile phones on flights he had piloted.
However, chief pilot and flight instructor at The Flight Academy, John Fiscus, using Q&A site, Quora reported having had mobile phones interrupt his communications on several occasions.
These interruptions, he said, were little more than buzzing noises on his headset meaning pilots can misunderstand instructions from control towers, rather than a complete communications black-out. “Either way, when a plane is about to land, any misunderstanding can be fatal.”
And US media giant ABC News, citing an IATA (International Air Transport Association) report, stated that there had been 75 documented reports since 2003 of “possible electronic interference” which crew believed to be attributed to devices like cell-phones and tablets.
According to Travelstart, no scientific study has yet been conducted to verify the likelihood of IATA’s claims.
“Unfortunately, the verdict is inconclusive and with no one willing to put their heads on the proverbial chopping block about this, civil aviation authorities look certain to continue playing it safe and ruling that electronic devices remain off during take-off and landing,” Travelstart said.