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What is Airplane Mode? What it does and when to use it

What is Airplane Mode? Allow us to explain. Smartphones, cell phones, and most other mobile devices are equipped with a setting called Airplane Mode (sometimes known as Flight mode). It’s designed to turn off all the Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular, and data connections on your mobile device, which might otherwise interfere with the various sensors and equipment on commercial airplanes. If you’ve ever placed your smartphone next to a speaker and heard a loud buzzing or another strange interference sound, then you’ll understand why Airplane Mode exists.

We have a guide on how to turn on Airplane Mode for both Android phones and iPhones, but it’s generally easy to implement — just look for an Airplane icon and tap it. You should always see an airplane icon in your notification bar at the top of your screen when you have Airplane Mode switched on. Typically, you’ll be prompted to turn it on after boarding a flight, directly before your plane takes off.

There are sometimes slight differences in what Airplane Mode does between devices, but the main thing it always does is disconnect your cellular voice and data connection. If you turn on Airplane Mode on an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch, it will also disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

With Airplane Mode turned on, you’ll still be able to use some apps and games, take photos with your camera, and play both videos and music stored locally on your device.

Using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

In 2013, the United States Federal Aviation Administration updated its guidelines to allow for the expanded use of personal electronics. This means that you can always use Bluetooth, which is short-range, on a flight to connect to devices like headphones. It also means that you can use Wi-Fi on flights, assuming it’s supported on the plane.

Thankfully, you can turn Bluetooth and Wi-Fi back on without exiting Airplane Mode. To do so, tap the relevant icon in your notification shade by swiping down from the top on an Android device or swiping up from the bottom to access the Control Center on an iOS device.

However, the precise rules may vary depending on the aircraft, airline, or country you’re in. If in doubt, ask before you turn any connections on.

Other uses for Airplane Mode

Now that you understand what Airplane Mode is, we felt it was important to mention that it can be highly convenient in a few other situations besides an airplane ride — for example, to save battery life. If you’re struggling to establish a solid connection on your phone and you’re having difficulty getting a signal, it can be helpful to switch Airplane Mode on and off again.

The feature also operates well when you’re in a “don’t disturb” kind of mood. You can quickly turn Airplane Mode on right before you head to bed, and your phone won’t annoyingly wake you up with a text or email alert (and if you’re wondering, yes, alarms still work). When you need to increase the battery life on your phone, Airplane Mode is also an excellent technique to boost it. You can use it and save your battery as long as you aren’t expecting a call or message from someone. We encourage you to take a look at our iPhone battery tips article for more neat ideas. When you’re using Airplane Mode, you should also begin to notice that your phone charges faster when it’s plugged in. 

Another admirable attribute of Airplane Mode is that it stops your phone from emitting radiation (seeing as how it prevents it from emitting cell phone signals). Of course, most phones release only a tiny amount of radiofrequency (RF) energy radiation. Still, if you don’t have an urgent need to connect to your cell network, you might as well turn on Airplane Mode just to be extra safe.

Lastly, enabling Airplane Mode is a great way of limiting cellular data usage when traveling if you haven’t paid for international roaming. For those without roaming plans, your phones will immediately charge you international fees when it pings a nearby tower, even if you have Wi-Fi and cellular data turned off. The best way to prevent that is to use Airplane Mode, giving you the ability to use your phone without racking up fees. You can even enable Wi-Fi after Airplane Mode is on while still being assured that your cellular connection isn’t active. Airplane Mode can also be used to limit cellular data usage when you’re near home, for example, if you’re running low on data and don’t want your phone automatically downloading images and videos from WhatsApp messages or updating apps while you’re not connected to Wi-Fi.

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Simon Hill
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Simon Hill is an experienced technology journalist and editor who loves all things tech. He is currently the Associate Mobile…
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