No one wants their plane to crash, and no one wants to cause a scene during a flight. So, diligent passengers that we are, we turn off our gadgets when we're told to. But no one's dying if you don't.
If you were on a flight a few years ago, the pre-flight spiel likely included some bit about turning off portable electronic devices because they could potentially cause electromagnetic interference with the aircraft's navigation. Electromagnetic interference?! That sounds terrifying! And so we complied, switching off cell phones and pausing iPods while we envied those that had decided to bring books on board.
But the thing about the electromagnetic interference is that it's a lie.
The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration banned in-flight cell phone use in the early '90s, despite not having any evidence that gadgets had ever caused an accident. Hey, it seemed feasible that they could. In 2006, the FAA decided to conduct a study to see if cell phones actually did interfere with aircraft computer systems, and because they couldn't find conclusive evidence that they didn't mess things up, they fell back on their nearly two decade-old supposition that they might. (Update: Commenters point out that the Mythbusters found that TDMA phones (few and far between these days) can interfere with unshielded navigation systems, but for all intents and purposes on any commercial flight, it's a lie.)
So, sure, cell phones might cause interference. But a megashark might jump out of the water and bite your plane in half, too.
Of course, the FAA has since approved in-flight Wi-Fi service, which is now standard on many airlines, and in the meantime we've stayed shutting off our cell phones before takeoff. But that doesn't mean the rest of the world has. As the Daily points out, the Inflight Passenger Communications Coalition counts 139 nations that currently approve in-flight cell service. Over seven million in-flight calls have been completed to date. All those planes have kept on navigating just fine.
Now, the desirability of having everyone yakking away on the airplane, which some like to consider a tranquil, technology-free sanctuary, is another matter. The Daily points to a recent MSNBC poll in which 85% of respondents said "people should just shut up and fly." So there's that.
None of this is new, of course. We've known for years that cellphones didn't pose a threat to planes—it's just nice to remind oneself that the rest of the world is doing it without issue. So while it's still true that no one wants to—and no one should—cause a scene on a plane, it's nice to know that you don't have to worry about bringing everything crashing down if you accidentally forget to turn off your phone before takeoff.