Airline passengers' refusal to switch off electronic devices before takeoff is reportedly now the biggest cause of onboard disputes, U.S. cabin crew members say.

Air travellers regularly ignore instructions to power down cellphones and other high-tech hand-held gear to the point that flight attendants told the Wall Street Journal the issue has become the most common customer misconduct complaint.

One of the more recent and high-profile cases involved actor Alec Baldwin.

In December, the 30 Rock star's addiction to the mobile Scrabble-like game Words With Friends got him booted off an American Airlines flight when he reportedly refused to stop playing and turn off his iPad.

But Baldwin is far from alone when it comes to non-compliance with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rules, which require electronic devices to be turned off once the plane's door has been closed.

Rise in customer misconduct reports

"Most passenger misconduct cases now deal with non-compliance with electronic devices," Kelly Skyles, an American Airlines flight attendant, told the Journal.

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Actor Alec Baldwin was tossed off an American Airlines flight in December after refusing to power down a handheld device he was using to play an online word game. (Matt Sayles/Associated Press)

The airline's flight attendants reported 1,306 incidents of customer misconduct to their union last year, compared with 1,248 incidents in 2010.

The figures have been rising for three years, with much of the increase attributed to arguments that arose following orders to refrain from using gadgets before takeoff.

In theory, the machines emit signals that can cause electromagnetic interference on flights that could affect a plane's navigational instruments. Engineers say the probability of such interference is small but worrisome.

Transport Canada's rules on portable electronic devices state that the devices aren't permitted for use when they might "impair the functioning of the aircraft's systems or equipment," but that they can be used with the permission of the operator of the aircraft.

While Transport Canada prohibits Wi-Fi in Canadian airspace, it has allowed Air Canada to test a mid-flight Wi-Fi service on flights between Montreal or Toronto and Los Angeles.