What is Airplane Mode? What does it do and when should you turn it on?

What is the Purpose of Airplane Mode?

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Airplane mode is a feature on mobile devices like smartphones and laptops that disables wireless signal transmissions. When you turn on airplane mode, your device’s cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth functions are switched off. In some cases, GPS functions may also be deactivated.

The primary purpose of airplane mode is to prevent your device’s signals from interfering with an aircraft’s communication and navigation systems. As a result, this mode is commonly used during flights to ensure the safe and smooth operation of the plane. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits using cellular services while an aircraft is in the air.

Apart from its use on airplanes, enabling airplane mode can also be beneficial in other situations. For example, activating airplane mode can help conserve battery life, especially when you don’t need to access the internet or make calls. Moreover, it can be a useful tool for disconnecting from the digital world and focusing on tasks requiring undivided attention, such as during meetings or sleeping.

Why does Airplane Mode Need to be ON During the Flight?

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Airplane mode is a crucial setting during a flight to ensure your safety and the proper functioning of the aircraft’s systems. Turning on airplane mode disables all wireless signal transmissions from your device, including cellular, WiFi, and Bluetooth. Sometimes, GPS functions are turned off as well.

The primary reason for turning on airplane mode during a flight is to prevent electromagnetic interference due to the various signals from phones, tablets, e-readers, and other electronic devices. The radio signals emitted from mobile devices and other wireless gadgets may interfere with crucial aircraft communication and navigation systems.

Modern airplanes are designed with this kind of interference in mind, but older aircraft might be more susceptible to potential disruptions. It’s also essential to consider that the simultaneous use of hundreds of electronic devices nearby within the confined space of an airplane can amplify any potential interference.

Once your device is in airplane mode, you can manually enable Bluetooth or Wi-Fi for in-flight entertainment options or connect to the in-flight wireless network. You should always follow the crew’s guidance and comply with any additional restrictions they may impose during your flight.

What Happens When You Don’t Switch to Airplane Mode?

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When you don’t switch your phone to airplane mode during a flight, your cellular-enabled device will continuously try to establish a connection with cell towers on the ground. This constant search for a connection can cause interference with the plane’s communication and navigation systems, which is why the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits cell phone calls while a plane is airborne.

Ignoring airplane mode can drain your device’s battery more quickly, as it endlessly searches for signals from ground-based cell towers. This can leave you with a dead battery upon landing – an inconvenience easily avoidable by switching to airplane mode.

Furthermore, not using airplane mode on a flight may disturb fellow passengers. They could be affected by the sounds and vibrations of incoming messages or notifications if your device is not silenced. Moreover, it’s expected that passengers follow the rules and demonstrate courtesy towards others on board.

Impact on Device Functionality

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Internet Connectivity

When you enable Airplane Mode on your device, it disables all wireless signal transmissions. This means that your device’s ability to connect to cellular or Wi-Fi networks is turned off. As a result, you will not be able to make or receive calls, send or receive text messages, or browse the internet during this time. However, you can still use offline apps and access local files on your device. This feature is especially useful during flights when regulations require passengers to disable connections that could potentially interfere with the aircraft’s systems.

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Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

Although Airplane Mode disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections by default, most modern devices allow you to re-enable these features separately without turning off Airplane Mode. This can be useful if you use Bluetooth headphones to listen to music stored on your device or connect to Wi-Fi during a flight, provided the airline permits Wi-Fi connections. To turn on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi while keeping Airplane Mode engaged, navigate to your device’s settings and individually enable these features.

GPS Services

The impact of Airplane Mode on GPS functionality varies depending on your device. In most cases, Airplane Mode will disable GPS services as well. This means you won’t be able to use any apps or features that rely on real-time location data during this time. However, some devices might allow GPS to remain active while Airplane Mode is turned on, so it’s essential to check your specific device model to determine how it handles GPS services when in Airplane Mode. If GPS services are enabled, you can use offline map applications and other location-based features that don’t require an internet connection.

When to Use Airplane Mode


During Flights

You should use airplane mode during flights to comply with regulations and ensure the safety of everyone on board. Airplane mode disables your device’s cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth functions, preventing interference with the aircraft’s communication and navigation systems. Most airlines will inform you when to enable airplane mode, during takeoff, landing, and possibly throughout the entire flight. Remember that some airlines may allow you to use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth during the flight, provided they offer such services.

Battery Conservation

Airplane mode can also conserve battery power when you do not need wireless communications. By disabling all wireless transmissions, your device uses less power, and the battery will last longer. This can be particularly helpful when you don’t have access to a charger and need to prolong your device’s battery life. Consider lowering screen brightness and closing unnecessary apps to extend battery life further.

Data Usage Control

Enabling airplane mode is useful for controlling your mobile device’s data usage. Disabling all wireless communication can avoid accidental data usage, roaming charges, or exceeding your data plan limits. This can be especially helpful while traveling abroad or when you have limited access to Wi-Fi and want to save your mobile data for essential tasks. You can manually re-enable Wi-Fi or Bluetooth while using specific services while in airplane mode while preventing cellular data usage.

Activating and Deactivating Airplane Mode

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To activate airplane mode on your device, follow these steps:

  • On an iPhone or iPad, go to the Control Center by swiping down from the top-right corner of the screen. Tap the airplane icon to activate airplane mode. You’ll see the icon turn orange when it’s active.
  • On an Android device, swipe from the screen to access the notifications bar. Look for the airplane icon and tap it to enable airplane mode. Depending on your Android version, the icon will turn orange or gray.

Deactivating airplane mode is just as simple:

  • On an iPhone or iPad, return to the Control Center and tap the airplane icon again. The icon will revert to its original color, indicating that airplane mode is off.
  • On an Android device, access the notifications bar and tap the airplane icon to disable airplane mode. The icon will change back to its original color.
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While airplane mode disables all wireless transmissions, including cellular, WiFi, and Bluetooth, you may selectively turn on specific functions when it is active. For example, you can enable Wi-Fi or Bluetooth while your device remains airplane mode. To do this:

  • Access the Control Center and tap an iPhone or iPad’s Wi-Fi or Bluetooth icon. Both functions will operate independently from airplane mode.
  • Go to the notifications bar on an Android device and tap the appropriate icon to re-enable Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Airplane mode’s primary purpose is to prevent interference with an aircraft’s navigation and communication systems during a flight. It is essential to enable it while on an airplane, as the airline requires. However, you may also use airplane mode in other situations to:

  • Conserve battery life, as disabling wireless transmissions can prolong the time between charges.
  • Improve focus and productivity by eliminating distractions from incoming calls, messages, and notifications.
  • Enhance security in areas with questionable or insecure Wi-Fi connections.

Remember to turn off airplane mode when you resume your device’s wireless functions. If you’re unsure whether to use airplane mode, consult your device’s user manual or contact the manufacturer’s support service for further guidance.

Are There Other Uses for Airplane Mode?

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Get Work Done

You can eliminate distractions and focus on your work by enabling Airplane Mode. With all wireless connections disabled, you won’t receive any notifications, messages, or calls. This creates an excellent environment for productivity. It’s beneficial when you need to focus on writing, editing documents, or preparing for a presentation.

Protect Your Kids

Airplane Mode can be helpful when you want your kids to use your smartphone or tablet solely for offline games or educational apps. By activating this mode, you ensure they won’t access harmful content, make unintended purchases, or communicate with strangers online.

Charge Up More Quickly

Turning on Airplane Mode can help reduce the time it takes to charge your device. Since wireless connections consume batteries, disabling them allows your device to charge more efficiently. Switching on Airplane Mode can be a lifesaver when you’re in a hurry and need maximum battery level.

Take a Break

In today’s interconnected world, it’s essential to disconnect occasionally and take a break. By enabling Airplane Mode, you can create a digital-free space for yourself. Use this time to meditate, practice mindfulness, or read a book without any internet distractions. Encourage a more balanced digital life by giving yourself regular tech breaks using Airplane Mode.

Last Updated : 14 October, 2023

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