Airplane mode is a setting on cell phones, smartphones and other mobile devices that prevents the device from sending or receiving calls and text messages. Airplane mode is also known as offline mode, standalone mode and flight mode.
Airplane mode varies from one device to another. On an iPhone, airplane mode disables connectivity for cellular voice and data, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and location-based services.
Some airlines are beginning to implement in-flight Wi-Fi but transmission functions have not, until recently, been allowed during air travel. The most commonly stated explanation for barring wireless connectivity during flights is the need to prevent interference with the plane’s onboard communications. There is some controversy as to whether that explanation is valid. In any case, however, cellular networks are not equipped to deal with devices connecting from flight heights and moving at flight speeds.
What is Airplane Mode (Video)
Airplane mode allows travelers to continue to use their devices unless airline rules require that the devices be turned off altogether. In airplane mode, only functions that require a transmission signal are disabled; the user can still access the device’s camera, games, MP3 player and so on. Some devices also allow users to write and save text and email messages to be sent when transmission is permitted again.
“Airplane mode” is also used metaphorically, to refer to a lack of service or the user’s intentional avoidance of communications.
What Does Airplane Mode Do?
Whatever device you’re using—an Android phone, iPhone, iPad, Windows tablet, or whatever else—airplane mode disables the same hardware functions. These include:
- Cellular: Your device will stop communicating with cell towers. You won’t be able to send or receive anything that depends on cellular data, from voice calls to SMS messages to mobile data.
- Wi-Fi: Your phone will stop scanning for nearby Wi-Fi networks and attempting to join them. If you’re already connected to a Wi-Fi network, you’ll be disconnected.
- Bluetooth: Airplane mode disables Bluetooth, a wireless communication technology most people associate with wireless headsets. But Bluetooth can be used for many other things, including keyboards and mice.
- GPS: Airplane mode also disables GPS-receiving functions, but only on some devices. This is a bit confusing and inconsistent. In theory, GPS is unlike all the other technologies here—a device with GPS turned on is only listening to GPS signals it receives, not transmitting any signals. However, some aircraft regulations do not allow the use of GPS-receiving functions for whatever reason.
But you Can Re-Enable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in Airplane Mode
Wi-Fi is allowed on some airplanes. In fact, many airplanes now offer in-flight Wi-Fi. Enabling airplane mode always disables Wi-Fi. However, on most devices, you can re-enable Wi-Fi after turning on airplane mode. Other radio signals are still blocked, but you’ll at least be able to connect to Wi-Fi networks.
Some devices also allow you to enable Bluetooth when airplane mode is enabled. Whether this is allowed depends on your airline and the regulatory agency in charge.
Why is Airplane Mode Necessary?
Regulations in many countries prohibit the use of devices that transmit signals on commercial aircraft. A typical phone or cellular-enabled tablet is communicating with several cell towers and attempting to maintain a connection at all times. If the towers are far away, the phone or tablet has to boost its signal so it can communicate with the towers. This sort of communication could interfere with an airplane’s sensors and potentially cause issues with sensitive navigation equipment. That’s the concern that brought these laws about, anyway. In reality, modern equipment is robust. Even if these transmissions do cause problems, your plane won’t fall out of the sky because a few people forgot to enable airplane mode!
A more demonstrable concern is that, as you’re traveling very quickly, all the phones on the plane would be constantly handing off from cell tower to cell tower. This would interfere with the cellular signals people on the ground receive. You wouldn’t want your phone to do this hard work, anyway—it would drain its battery and it wouldn’t be able to maintain a signal properly, anyway.
Benefits of Airplane Mode
There are certain benefits to using airplane Mode
Use Airplane Mode to Save Battery Power
Airplane mode is useful even when you’re on the ground, offering an excellent way to save battery power on your device. The radios on a device use a large amount of power, communicating with cell towers, scanning for and connecting to nearby Wi-Fi networks, waiting for incoming Bluetooth connections, and occasionally checking your location via GPS.
Turn airplane mode to disable all those radios. Bear in mind that this will block incoming phone calls and SMS messages on a phone, but it can be a great battery-saving tip if you really need that last bit of juice. It’s especially useful on a tablet when you’re just using your tablet as an offline eReader anyway.
Speed up charging by Using Airplane Mode
Heading home for five or ten minutes before going back out on the road? Charging your phone at the local bar? Airplane mode means your smartphone is hardly doing anything at all—cellular connectivity, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and location services are all switched off, so if you’re charging up your mobile device then that battery indicator will go up at a faster rate in Airplane mode.
This is essentially the same point as the first one—Airplane mode means extra battery life—but it’s worth making the distinction. It can be a valuable trick to call on if you know that your time will be limited at the power socket and you want to get on the move again as quickly as possible.
Avoid distractions by Using Airplane Mode
For many of us, a smartphone is a constant source of distraction. Emails, calls, Snapchats, and special offers crowd our home screens and mean we’re checking our devices more than we really should. There are various ways to tackle this problem, from putting your phone in a drawer to switching off notifications, but Airplane mode has a number of advantages.