Can a Cell Phone Actually Crash a Delta Plane? What About Other Airlines?

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The hits just keep on coming for Boeing.

First, the company’s 737 MAX aircraft were grounded following two fatal crashes. (Delta does not fly any MAXes.) Yesterday, Boeing posting a company record $2.9 billion quarterly loss.

Now, a recent report delivers some rather disturbing news: some 737s and 777s are prone to mobile phones and other radio signals.

Anita Sharpe writes in Time that “(more) than 1,300 jets registered in the U.S. were equipped with cockpit screens vulnerable to interference from Wi-Fi, mobile phones and even outside frequencies such as weather radar, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.”

A Boeing 737 cockpit.


So what’s the worst that could happen?

“Flight-critical data including airspeed, altitude and navigation could disappear and ‘result in loss of airplane control at an altitude insufficient for recovery,’ the FAA said in its 2014 safety bulletin, known as an airworthiness directive,” Ms. Sharpe reports. (Bold mine)


Airlines with affected aircraft have until this November to retrofit cockpits with compliant screens.

**Related Post: Should Boeing Rename the 737 MAX? If So, to What? Will That Even Help?**

Does Delta Fly Any of the Prone 737s and 777s?

A Delta Air Lines 737.

Some of Delta’s 737s and 777s were affected. The mothership, however, reportedly replaced the offending cockpit screens. Southwest also completed their repairs.

According to the article, American and United have 14 and 17 planes, respectively, still needing fixes.

Are We Really in Danger?

Honeywell’s Nina Krauss told Ms. Sharpe the company knows of only a single instance when all six displays on a 737 blanked out. Interestingly, that problem was unrelated to Wi-Fi or cellphones; it was a software issue currently being flight-tested.

So we’re okay, right? Well…

A bunch of phones emitting radio signals during a flight “could be a real problem,” Embry-Riddle’s Tim Wilson told Time.

Ms. Krauss assured that multiple redundancies are in place should another blanking incident happen. Let’s hope it never comes to that.

I’m usually very good about putting my phone in airplane mode. Once or twice I was distracted and forgot, realizing my mistake well into the flight. Nothing happened — that I know of — to the cockpit screens.

Even though 90% of my flights are aboard Delta and their planes are compliant, I’ll still be more vigilant about putting my phone into airplane mode — or shutting it off altogether.



  1. Makes you wonder about the vulnerabilities of all future driverless vehicles, especailly large trucks, aerial drones and taxis.

  2. I don’t see what this has to do with driverless vehicles (in response to the previous comment).

    With regard to this article, Virgin Atlantic has cellular service onboard its planes during flight, that uses the cellular service (connecting to an access point in the plane). I don’t know why anyone would use this service which is really expensive, when you can achieve the same result over a WhatsApp connection using Wifi (which is not illegal on British planes like it now is on US planes.

    The article says that the only incident had nothing to do with cellphones so it doesn’t appear to be an issue for Delta. As for switching off rather than using airplane mode, I would have thought the same issue would apply to PCs with Wifi since a phone in airplane mode (with Wifi on) is basically a PC, in other words if you want to switch off your phone, you should switch off your PC too. Personally I am not concerned though.

  3. As a fellow passenger, NOTHING you have to do on your devices is as important to me as my life.

  4. If cell phones use is a real safety issue for certain 737s and 777s, I don’t understand why the FAA did not require fixing it immediately. Five years is a long time. The fix should be Boeing’s problem since it installed faulty equipment.

  5. I really should have read the article before commenting. It’s clear that the risk is minimal according to the FAA. The people that are making a bigger deal out of this are self-appointed experts on the topic. Also even in the quote here it says that many sources, including weather radar, were included in the potential negligible risks. So in response to Glenn, what we are doing on our devices is not going to put your life at risk. If you want to increase your chances of longevity, continue to do nice things for other people and making yourself invaluable to others so that G-d will want to keep you around. In response to John, read the article and then see if you still think there is anything to worry about.

  6. huh??

    “Now, a recent report delivers some rather disturbing news: some 737s and 777s to mobile phones and other radio signals.”

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