Is it really dangerous to use a cell phone on a plane?

Is it really dangerous to use a cell phone on a plane -You know who you are. You leave your phone on during flights, maybe do a little text messaging and otherwise break rules about cell phone use on planes once the doors close for departure.

"This is an absurd rule. I never turn (mine) off. I may text or browse the Web, but I never talk on the phone," one reader commented recently.

On the other side of the aisle are passengers who abide by the safety instructions and warnings, worried that cellular signals may indeed interfere with cockpit instruments.

Take those two camps and add passengers who say either way, listening to fellow travelers chatter on the phone would be annoying, and you have a heated debate -- sometimes literally in the airplane aisles.

Huffington Post editor Arianna Huffington's BlackBerry use got her in trouble with a fellow flier this month, and in December a dispute came to blows when a teen wouldn't turn off his phone as his flight taxied for takeoff.

A U.S. ban on airborne use of cell phones has been in place for 20 years because of concerns transmissions would interfere with cellular networks on the ground. While many airlines now offer Wi-Fi access via portable electronic devices from laptops to smartphones, cellular voice and data services on domestic airlines fall under that Federal Communications Commission ban.

The Federal Aviation Administration supports the ban, citing potential interference with aircraft communication and navigation systems. The FAA also advises airlines to make sure passengers turn off almost all portable electronic devices during critical phases of flight, below 10,000 feet. Airlines require electronics be turned off and stowed during takeoff and landing.

But airline passengers who have routinely neglected -- or forgotten -- to turn off their mobile phones without devastating consequences have to wonder, how dangerous can it be?

That turns out to be a tough question to answer, but those who've studied the rules sum it up as better safe than sorry.

The risk is small, "but why take that risk?" asked David Carson, a Boeing engineer who headed up a committee of aviation and electronics experts years ago to advise the FAA on the safety of Wi-Fi and cellular devices on planes.

He compared breaking the cell phone rules with not wearing a seat belt. "I could probably make a flight without a seat belt on and probably I'd be safe," Carson said.

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