What Is Airplane Mode on a Cell Phone and Why Is It Used?

Michael Kwan
Woman on cellphone on airplane

As you ensure that your seat back and tray table are both in their full upright positions, you will also be reminded you to put your smartphone, tablet, or other mobile devices in airplane mode. This is an important step that all passengers should take as the flight crew prepares for takeoff.

How Airplane Mode Works

Your cell phone, tablet and other similar personal electronics all contain a number of different wireless radios that are used for communication purposes. These include connecting to your cellular provider for talk, text and mobile data, as well as GPS, Bluetooth, and more. When you enable airplane mode, which is also known as flight mode or offline mode, all of these wireless connections are turned off.

Why It Is Used

The radio emissions from your mobile device can cause interference with many of the airplane's on-board systems. While a single phone probably won't be too much of an issue, a plane full of active wireless devices, particularly those searching for a network signal, can generate a great deal of radio pollution. In turn, the pilot's ability to communicate with air traffic control can be significantly hampered with "noisy" audio.

Enable Flight Mode on Your Phone

It's easy to put your phone on airplane mode. This task usually only requires a few short steps.

iPhone Instructions

To enable flight mode on an iPhone:

  1. Open Control Center from the Home Screen. On most iPhones, you will need to swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen. If you have an iPhone X, swipe down from the upper-right corner of the screen.
  2. Tap on the airplane icon.

Alternatively, you can open the Settings app on your iPhone and enable airplane mode by tapping the corresponding slider.

Android Instructions

To enable flight mode on an Android device:

  1. Swipe down twice from the top of the screen to reveal the Quick Settings panel.
  2. Tap on the Airplane Mode icon in the displayed grid.

Alternatively, open up the Settings app on your Android phone, look under Wireless & Networks (or equivalent), and tap the appropriate toggle for Airplane Mode.

Communicating in Airplane Mode

When your mobile device is in airplane mode, it will not connect to the 3G/4G cellular network of your chosen wireless provider. As a result, many of your regular forms of communication will be disrupted.

  • When people call you, it would be the same as if you were outside of the service area. By default, calls are typically directed to voicemail automatically.
  • If the caller does not leave a voicemail, you will not know that you missed a call.
  • People can still send text messages to you, but you will not receive them until your device reconnects to the cellular network.
  • If you have Wi-Fi calling enabled on your plan and you connect to the in-flight Wi-Fi service, you may be able to receive phone calls that way.
  • Certain messaging apps, including WhatsApp, allow you to send offline messages. The message is saved on your device and will be sent automatically when your phone reconnects to the Internet.

In-Flight Wi-Fi Networks

When you enable airplane mode on your device, all the wireless radios are disabled. If your flight offers in-flight Internet services, you can turn on the Wi-Fi on your phone after you've enabled flight mode. This keeps the 3G/4G cellular radio off while allowing you to connect to the plane's Wi-Fi network by following the airline's instructions.

Usage Outside a Plane

Airplane mode is named as such because it is used most commonly while on a flight. However, there are uses for this mode even when you are not on a plane. For example, it can help save battery life and speed up charging, as well as temporarily eliminate distractions. If you visit certain restricted areas or places with sensitive equipment, you may be asked to turn off your phone or activate airplane mode.

Be Prepared

Just as it's a good idea to pack your bags strategically and be prepared to get through airport security quickly, taking the time to familiarize yourself with flight mode on your device will make for a more pleasant journey. For the safety of all passengers aboard, be sure to keep your device in airplane mode for the full duration of the flight.

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What Is Airplane Mode on a Cell Phone and Why Is It Used?