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Inspired by a question if it is allowed to use a Kindle during a flight, I'm wondering if it is okay to use a GPS watch like this.

I use this for practice purpose, but it is also my normal watch. I don't see any special setting to turn of the GPS, so do I have to leave the watch at home? Or do I have to remove the battery?

The same problem with my digital camera which has a built in GPS receiver to geotag a picture. Is it a problem if this GPS receiver is working during a flight?

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As a side note, it seems to be pretty hard to get GPS receivers to work inside a commercial plane. I've tried with my smartphone on several flights, and I could only get it to work temporarily when I was pressing the phone up against the window. –  jrdioko Sep 22 '11 at 17:36
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that's because most smartphones suffer from 2 things when it comes to "GPS": 1) they're not GPS but triangulate cellphone towers and/or 2) the antenna/receiver is of extremely low power and simply can't get a signal inside that metal tube (or inside a car unless pressed against the window) –  jwenting Feb 2 '12 at 6:33
    
@jwenting, That is not true. Almost all smartphones have a real GPS receiver. They can compute a position based off of triangulation if the GPS receiver can't get a signal, but the GPS receiver is the primary source of location information on almost every smartphone ever made (some old Palm ones didn't have them, but almost all Android and iPhones did, as far as I know.) –  reirab Mar 22 at 3:40
    
@reirab 1) 2 years ago that was not the case, 2) even today most will use triangulation on towers because it's more energy efficient. Your assertion that (almost) all cellphones have always had actual GPS receivers is dead wrong. –  jwenting Mar 23 at 15:35
    
@jwenting. I said almost all smartphones, not cell phones. And, yes, it was the case two years ago. Most phones that aren't smartphones don't have GPS receivers, but almost all smartphones do. –  reirab Mar 23 at 19:09
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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

GPS devices do not have an active transmitter (for devices that don't go online to fetch map data, that is); they work by calculating time signals broadcast at low power by a constellation of satellites. Since there's no active transmitter and GPS signals are broadcast anyway (modern aircraft navigation systems do use GPS onboard), a watch or a camera technically cannot cause interference at all.

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Joe Mehaffey keeps a list. Last updated a year ago: gpsinformation.net/airgps/airgps.htm –  mkennedy Sep 6 '11 at 14:56
    
That's rather wishful thinking. A GPS does not deliberately transmit a signal, of course, but all electronic devices give off some interference. The question is, how much? –  Malvolio Jan 11 '12 at 16:28
    
Perhaps the better word would be it cannot make a noticeable interference compared to a device with an active transmitter. –  Ankur Banerjee Jan 11 '12 at 20:30
    
any antenna is a transmitter, period. That's basic physics. BUT it's a transmitter whenever it is inside an electric field, not just when the device is turned on, so it's irrelevant :) –  jwenting Feb 2 '12 at 6:35
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It really, really doesn't matter that a GPS receiver will passively transmit a tiny bit. There is already a large bunch of GPS satellites actively transmitting at the very same fequencies. Aircraft electronics can deal with that. (An active/powered transmitter in the plane is far more dangerous). –  MSalters Feb 7 '12 at 14:07
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It's pretty ridiculous that I've seen airlines ask for these to be turned off at times. By definition, GPS is receive-only - it sends out NOTHING, so really the watch part of your watch probably emits more EM (note to science geeks, I can't back that statement up with fact).

Anyway, they certainly won't ask you to turn off your watch, or remove the battery. If you were sitting there with a big GPS unit holding it up to the window I'd be surprised if it didn't get a comment or request to switch it off, but the watch is fine.

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I have used my GPS receiver frequently on flights (also to/within the US) and the only problem I had was getting it to acquire the satellites :)
Some airlines explicitly allow them, e.g. Continental/United list them in the onboard magazine as allowed.

That said, I do switch it off during takeoff and landing.

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There's a geek answer to this, and a practical answer to this.

The geek answer is that there are all sorts of electronics that can have no conceivable effect upon a plane in flight.

The practical answer is that even if you're completely certain that your gizmo can't affect a plane, it's going to be up to the cabin crew to decide whether you are breaking airline regulations. This can cause an effect ranging from being politely asked to turn off the device... to your plane diverting in mid-air so you can be removed from the plane in handcuffs.

So my recommendation for flights in the US: follow the instructions you're given. One flight I was on said, "If your device has an off switch, turn it off." In this case, your watch would be fine. Most flights said, "Turn off your GPS." In this case, I would take out the battery.

It doesn't have to make sense. The better question is, "What are the consequences for disobeying the instruction?" Don't rely on the common sense or tech savvy (or lack thereof) of the cabin crew who are legally empowered (in the US) to make any decision they like if they think it affects the safety of the plane.

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not just legally empowered, but legally required. The requirement to turn off those devices is an FAA directive and has force of law. Therefore you're required by law to turn them off, and the crew is by law required to enforce that law. If you refuse, they have to make an emergency landing at the nearest airport where the police will arrest you and escort you off the plane. –  jwenting Feb 2 '12 at 6:37
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"The regulations also let airlines independently determine if passengers can use Personal Electronic Devices not specifically mentioned by the rules." (faa.gov) - so the "legally required" is quite limited; only cell phones without airplane mode are specifically banned. –  MSalters Feb 7 '12 at 14:11
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