There's a huge amount of inconsistency about the treatment of cellphone users on planes and airports. I'm not talking about the possibility of on-board picocells but when and how you are permitted to use mobiles while on the ground.
Some airlines seem happy for you to use mobiles until they shut the cabin doors before take-off. Others won't allow you to use them on the plane at any point.
It isn't related to national or airport-specific regulation, either. I've flown into SFO a couple of times in the last 6 months. On one flight (Virgin), the crew announced "don't use your phones until you are well inside the terminal". On the other (United), the crew announced it was OK to switch on while the plane was still slowing down, halfway along the runway.
A couple of thoughts
- regulation is too ill-defined, so airlines have developed their own rules which they apply consistently across all their flights - but inconsistently with other airlines
- some airlines (especially low-cost airlines like EasyJet) want you off the plane ASAP, so they can turn around & head off again 30 minutes later. Fiddling around with phones while you're still in the aisle slows people down by a few seconds, so telling them they can't helps speed up the process or disembarking
Or, more cynically..... many airports and cellular networks carefully locate cells, antennas and other coverage solutions to grab as many lucrative "inbound roamers" as they can. Sometimes carriers may even pay a premium to the airport owner to be the first "visible" network when travellers get off the plane. But if they just hook into the local macro network in the Bay Area or Hounslow, all that RF planning cleverness and investment is wasted.
So, who knows.... maybe airlines actually get paid by operators to tell their passengers to wait before switching on their phones? A business traveller might be worth $50 to whichever operator gets his or her roaming business, so capturing a few more inbound roamers might make it worthwhile for Vodafone or O2 to have a chat with the operations folk at EasyJet or BA, as the legal situation seems to be so vague....