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What is Airplane Mode? Everything you need to know

Will the plane crash if you leave your phone on? Er....no.
By
December 7, 2022

When mobile phones first became popular in the 1990s, many airline pilots noticed that phones belonging to passengers were interfering with their headsets. This was due to the phone’s radio frequency signal transmissions. Pretty soon, phones had to be switched off during the flight, and when the smartphone era started, Airplane Mode was born. But what is Airplane Mode, how do you use it, and is it really necessary anymore in this day and age?

Read more: Apple iPhone 14 buyer’s guide — everything you need to know

QUICK ANSWER

Airplane Mode is a smartphone setting where you can temporarily disable all radio frequency signal transmissions coming from your phone. This includes Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and all phone services. As its name implies, it was invented for airplane travel, but you can also use it to put your phone into hibernation when you want some peace and privacy.


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What does Airplane Mode do?

Pixel 6a wing and sky
Ryan Haines / Android Authority
1x image of the sky and an airplane wing

Early mobile phone models in the 1990s would cause interference with the pilot’s communication headset and become annoying and distracting. Since distracting the pilot while in the air is generally not a good idea if you want to arrive at your destination alive, airlines soon banned anyone from leaving their phone switched on during a flight.

When smartphones started arriving on the scene and Wi-Fi became a common feature, Airplane Mode was invented. The feature puts various phone features that use radio frequency signal transmissions into a state of hibernation, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and any phone-based features. These features cannot be used while the function is on. The rest of the phone, which does not rely on these signals, remains fully operational. So you can still listen to downloaded music, watch a downloaded movie, and play downloaded games on your device.

Is Airplane Mode necessary?

airplane mode switch off phone

There has never been a documented case of a plane crashing or experiencing serious technical problems due to a mobile phone. However, some would argue that may be because of the phone being switched off or Airplane Mode being enabled. The world can’t seem to make up its mind on the matter, with various countries making up their own policies on the status of mobile devices on planes.

In the United States, the official position in 2022 seems to be that you can use your mobile device on a plane as long as Airplane Mode is enabled. But with more and more airlines now offering free or cheap Wi-Fi on their planes, it remains to be seen how long it will be before the policy will be changed again.

How to turn Airplane Mode on and off

Turning it on and off is simple, whether you’re using an Android phone or an iPhone.

Android

Android phone

Since there are lots of different Android phone models, we can’t possibly cover them all. But the general principle will be the same. My colleague John explained how to enable Airplane Mode on the Samsung Galaxy S10, but here’s how you would do it on a stock Android phone (in this case, the Pixel 4).

  • Swipe down from the top of the screen, and one of the settings there should be Airplane Mode. You can just tap this button to enable the function.
  • Alternatively, go to Settings > Network & internet. Airplane Mode should be in this section. Simply toggle the feature on (and toggle it off again when you’re finished.)

iPhone

I showed you a while back how to turn Airplane Mode on and off on an iPhone. But if you’re in a hurry and don’t want to click through, here’s a quick summary.

  • Swipe down from the top-right of the screen (where the battery icon is). This opens Control Center.
  • The Airplane Mode icon is the one at the top-left of the screen (it will turn orange when you tap it.)
  • You will know the setting is on when you see the small airplane icon next to your battery icon.
  • To disable Airplane Mode, simply repeat the above process and tap the icon again to turn it off.

 

FAQs

Only if the airline allows it on their flights. Many airlines are now introducing Wi-Fi services on their planes. If it is not allowed, then no, you would not be able to use it.

Yes. If you leave the feature off during a flight, the phone’s Wi-Fi will constantly be jumping around, looking for a cell tower signal. This would drain the battery.

Since cell service is temporarily disabled, the phone will not ring. The caller will hear an automated message from the phone carrier saying you are unavailable or words to that effect.

Since Airplane Mode temporarily shuts down all cell service to the phone, any SMS text messages sent to it will not arrive until it is disabled again.

Do Not Disturb only disables the phone’s sound and notifications. Airplane Mode shuts down all phone and internet-based features. It has nothing to do with the phone’s sound functions.

There has never been a documented incident of a plane crashing due to a mobile phone not being in Airplane Mode. It’s more of a courtesy to the pilots to prevent any possibility of signal interference between the phone and the plane’s controls.

Read a book (a paper one). Meditate. Talk to the passenger next to you. Look out the window. Ask the stewardess for a drink.