ATA Tries To Have You Arrested For Using Your iPhone In "Airplane Mode"

The iPhone has a setting that makes it safe to use on an airplane. So-called “airplane mode” disables cell phone, radio, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth signals, thus allowing you to watch movies staring Jennifer Love Hewitt while flying through the air.

And that’s what reader Casey tried to do. Unfortunately, it seems that the flight attendants had never heard of “airplane mode,” and called the police when Casey refused to stop watching I Know What You Did Last Summer.

I am an iPhone owner, and this is my story. I recently was traveling to Hawaii on ATA airlines and took my iPhone along for the trip. During the first 2 hours of my 5 hour flight I was listening to music using the ipod function of my iPhone.

The iPhone was sitting on my tray table in front of my seat, in plain sight. Then I decided to watch a movie. So I fired up the classic “I know what you did last summer”, a movie I had never seen before. About 1 and a half hours into this cinematic masterpiece I had a flight attendant try to get my attention.

I paused the movie just as Jennifer love Hewitt was screaming something about “please stop killing my friends” or “what do you want from me”, honestly I am not sure what she was saying because I paused the movie and looked to see what the flight attendant wanted. He said something to the effect of “you can’t use a cell phone in flight”. OK, that makes sense, so I assured him that I had the phone in airplane mode and that all cell, wifi and bluetooth was off.

He again said “you have to stop using it” and walked on… Now I know something about flying and the rules, and I am pretty sure I can use the MP3 part of a cell phone if it is in airplane mode, above 10,000 feet. So, I continued to watch, needing to find out who the killer with the hook was and why they were messing with J Love.

About 10 minutes later, the same guy comes back and waves his hand in front of my face, I pause the movie again, and look over at him. He says that I am not allowed to use a cell phone in flight and I am breaking FAA rules. Again I tell him I have the phone in airplane mode, and would be more than happy to show that to him. He didn’t want to see it and said I am breaking FAA rules.

“OK, maybe I am wrong ?” I think to myself.

So I ask what rule I am breaking. He tells me I am talking on my cell phone. I again explain I am not using the cell part and it is disabled. I go on to further explain that I have been on other airlines that have specific written rules that say cell phones in airplane mode are OK above 10,00 feet, so how could it be a FAA rule. And if it is, what rule ? He has no answer for that, but to now yells at me “You have to do anything I say, I am going to have you arrested”….

ANYTHING ? Wow…I didn’t know they had that power in the air?

So now the head flight attendant comes over and tell me the same thing about FAA rules, and I explain again to her the same stuff, and asked her again “What rule am I breaking?” She runs off and comes back with a slip of paper that has about 4 or 5 FAA rules that the flight attendant is supposed to check off and sign and give to you as a written warning. She has crossed all of them out and written “Talking on cell phone”…I tell her again “I am not talking on my cell, the cell part is off, and this is a device that has many functions that maybe you are not aware of and the offending functions are disabled.”

She goes on to tell me that I am breaking FAA rules. I say “WHAT RULE ?”

Oh, while this is going on the first flight attendant guy is behind her yelling at me about that he wants me arrested.

Then she runs off and comes back with a HUGE book of FAA rules. Finally, I will get to see the rule about no phones in airplane mode (even though I know it doesn’t exist) She drops it in my lap, open to a page that says “Things not allowed in flight: Talking on cell phones, Playing online cell phone games… Things allowed over 10,00 feet: MP3 Players…etc..”

So I say “what does that show? I am not talking on my phone”

She grabs the book and runs off in a huff. And again the guy yells at me “I have called the police, you are going to jail”…

So we start our decent and I turn my iPhone off, because I follow REAL FAA rules. We land and there are police waiting for me, the flight attendant that started this whole thing makes me walk to the front of the plane while everyone else has to stay in their seats and I stand there for 10 minutes. I kind of feel like I am standing in front of class as punishment because I was disruptive, not that this has ever happened to me in school, ok maybe it has.

Then the police take me off the flight and to a waiting area. I explain everything that happened, they go and talk to the male flight attendant. I see him waving his arms and looking very angry and animated. Why is he so hell bent on getting me in trouble ? So then the police come back over to me and explain that he said this particular plane is not shielded for ANY electronic equipment at all, so even a phone in airplane mode could cause problems.

OK, so why didn’t he tell me that at all in flight, all he said was i was breaking FAA rules, and also why was everyone else allowed to use their laptops, mp3 players, etc ?? The police officer looked confused, and said he would be right back. He talked to the guy again and then came back and said that the airplane is not shielded for ONLY phones in airplane mode.

Come on, really ? he has changed his story 3 times, and all he said in flight was FAA this and FAA that, nothing about this specific plane. The police sorta laughed and said wait one second, they went and talked to him, he got really upset and left. Then they came back to me and said I was free to go.

I have never been harassed by someone so much as that flight attendant. He was very rude to me the whole flight, lied about FAA rules, and changed his story to police 3 times. I took a Southwest flight later in the week, they have it clearly written in the inflight magazine that airplane mode is fine over 10,000 feet.

So, if you have an iPhone, ATA airlines does not want your business. I was harassed, embarrassed, and delayed for no reason, other than I own an iPhone, the ATA flight crew has no idea about what are real FAA rules, and they like to just make up whatever they want to scare you into obeying them, because you “have to do anything” they say…


Casey submitted this complaint to ATA and they’ve not responded. Apple’s website says that the iPhone is safe to use on an airplane while in “airplane mode,” and we see no reason to doubt this.

It seems that ATA owes Casey a big apology.