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January 8, 2013

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Air traveler who wouldn't turn off cell phone loses suit against cops

A PASSENGER detained for five days and fined 200 yuan (US$32) for using his cell phone when his plane was preparing to take off lost his suit against Pudong International Airport police, a local court ruled yesterday.

The plaintiff, surnamed Yao, fought with a passenger sitting next to him as the latter tried to persuade him to turn off his cell phone because the plane was taxiing at an airport in southwestern Yunnan Province on April 15.

Cell phone use is restricted during flights to avoid interference with aircraft communications.

The airline crew intervened and the men were handed to the airport police after the plane landed in Shanghai, the Pudong District People's Court heard.

Police said Yao was using his cell phone to take photos and refused to turn off the phone despite the other passenger's entreaties. Police tried to mediate the dispute and suggested that Yao pay the other man 400 yuan in compensation, but Yao refused. He was punished with the five-day detention plus the 200 yuan fine. The other man was also fined 200 yuan.

Yao thought the punishment was too severe and brought the airport police to court.

"I was attacked first and my action was self defense," Yao said in the court. He also argued he had taken out the SIM card that controls the phone and put the device into flight mode, therefore he thought the cell phone would do no harm to the flight.

The court said Yao had violated the rules aboard the plane since the flight mode is not yet approved in China.

"The punishment by the airport police was legal and reasonable," the court ruled.

This is not the first time that the so-called "flight mode" installed on many cell phones has caused problems between passengers and airport police.

Last year, a Shanghai woman was fined 1,500 yuan by police after she insisted on switching her cell phone to flight mode on a flight from Shenzhen to Wuhan.

Although China's civil aviation regulations forbid cell phones to be turned on during flights, many still believe the flight mode can block phone signals and have no ill effects.

A customer service employee with China Unicom's iPhone technical support hotline said the flight mode functions differently on different kinds of phones and some leave the Wi-Fi function open, which might interfere with aircraft signals.

According to the civil aviation regulations, offenders may face a fine of up to 2,000 yuan.


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