I wrote an article on this a while back. The forum moderators prefer I copy-and-paste info here rather than just post a link. I'll do both. First the pasted article:
What do you need to know about using (or not) your BlackBerry on an airplane? The short answer is that you will be directed to turn off your cellular telephone shortly before take-off, and you will be allowed to turn it on shortly after landing. But…your BlackBerry is a smartphone, not just a cellular telephone! There are different rules for “portable electronic devices” (e.g., laptop computers, handheld games, MP3 players, video cameras, and PDAs). What if you want to use your phone like a portable electronic device to listen to music, watch a video, compose a message to send later, take pictures, play a game, run an application, etc.? This post digs a bit deeper into the issue than your airline crew or their in-flight information magazine will explain.
I just returned from a trip to Colorado and had to deal with the rules and regulations regarding cellular telephone usage on an airliner. In my case, the airline was Delta, but I would guess that all commercial airlines have identical or similar rules. Generally, airlines allow you to use your cell phone (1) at the gate before take-off and (2) after landing. At all other times, they direct you to completely power down your phone. The concern is that radio signal transmissions from the phone might interfere with airplane communication or navigation equipment. Note: a cell phone transmits a signal even when you are not on a call–that’s why they require that you power it down and not simply refrain from making or taking calls.
I believe that you can accomodate the airline’s safety concerns yet still use many of your BlackBerry’s features during most of your flight. My confidence in this opinion is based on my education as an electrical engineer, my experience in designing data communication equipment, and my experience working in the aerospace industry. None of this will help you if your airline steward/stewardess disagrees–in which case I advise you simply comply with their wishes. But I do believe you will be complying with the intent of their rules and regulations if you use your BlackBerry as I suggest below.
First, it might help if you think of your BlackBerry Pearl 8130 as a computer with a built-in cellular telephone. If you can disable the built-in cell phone of your BlackBerry computer, your BlackBerry really becomes a portable electronic device as defined by the airlines. How do you do that? From the Home screen, select the Manage Connections icon. On the resulting menu, select Turn All Connections Off. That will shut down both your Mobile Network (cell phone communications) and your Bluetooth network (optionally used for a wireless earpiece or headset). Note that on that same menu you could have turned off both those connections or networks separately and achieved the same result. REMEMBER: You must return to this same menu to turn back on your Mobile Network when cellular communications are allowed! It is not necessary or desired to turn on Bluetooth at that time. (I don’t think Bluetooth devices or operation are ever allowed in an airliner. Wait till you’re off the plane to enable or turn on Bluetooth.)
Now, with Mobile Network and Bluetooth shut down, your BlackBerry can be equated–in the eyes of the airlines rules and regulations–to a Portable Electronic Device (PED). PEDs can be powered up at altitudes above 10,000 feet (presumably because the airplane is substantially between take-off and landing and less dependent on communication and navigation equipment). This allows you to use your BlackBerry to:
Listen to music (using earphones/headphones–wired not Bluetooth)
View videos (using earphones/headphones–wired not Bluetooth–for audio)
Take pictures or record audio/video
Play games (e.g., BrickBreaker)
Compose a message to send later (when cellular communications is allowed)
Work with your Calendar, Tasks, Memos, Calculator, Address Book, and Alarm
Run applications that don’t require cellular communications
Since your cellular communications and data services are turned off, you will not be able to:
Make or take phone calls (obviously)
Do Instant Messaging, BlackBerry Messaging, or chat
Browse the Web or run an application that accesses the Internet
Use a map application (e.g., Google Maps)
Use a GPS application
The above lists are not exhaustive because I have yet to learn all the optional applications that can be run on my BlackBerry.
How serious is this issue about cellphones and airlines? A brief search of the Internet suggested to me that the airlines are being extremely cautious and have not based their rules and regulations on hard evidence that using cell phones during flight is a significant risk. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not banned cell phones on either commercial or private airplanes–commercial airlines have made this decision on their own. But if I were in their shoes, I’d rather err on the side of safety, too.
Lastly, I think it’s worth noting that today’s cellular telephone communication networks were never designed for phones to be used at altitudes high above cell phone towers nor while traveling at speeds far beyond that of an automobile. If the airlines allowed us to use them during flight, we might discover that on occasion they would be quite unreliable.
PostScript, 2008-01-01: I’ve just learned that airlines are making allowances for some uses of your BlackBerry during flight. At the time of this writing, it applies to only select BlackBerry models (those with Wi-Fi built in), select airlines (JetBlue), and select services (Yahoo email and IM)–but this may be the beginning of a larger movement. For one story, see here.
PostScript, 2008-03-21: Here’s an Arab News article about a United Arab Emirates airline allowing cell phone use during flight.
The original article is here: Airline Issues « My BlackBerry Pearl 8130
in case you want to see the proper formatting, images, links, etc. or want to see if I've revised the article (again).