Airplane mode is a handy feature that's available on both Android phones and iPhone, as well as Windows 10 and other devices. While you've likely used it before, you might not understand exactly what it does or what you can use it for.
Let's look at what airplane mode offers and when to use it, so you can take full advantage of the function.
What Is Airplane Mode?
Airplane mode is the name of a function in most modern operating systems that allows you to turn off all wireless radio broadcasts at once. Enabling airplane mode disables the following functions:
- Wi-Fi: If you're currently connected to a Wi-Fi network, using airplane mode will disconnect you from it and keep Wi-Fi turned off.
- Mobile network access: Without a connection to your carrier network, you can't call, send SMS texts, or get online with mobile data.
- Bluetooth: Turning on airplane mode kills any active Bluetooth connections and prevents you from using Bluetooth to connect other devices to your phone.
GPS is the major exception to airplane mode. Because your phone only receives these signals and doesn't broadcast to GPS, airplane mode usually doesn't turn off GPS functionality. This may vary by device, however.
How Airplane Mode Got Its Name
As you might guess, airplane mode is called this because of the policy that airlines take regarding the use of mobile electronics on their planes. As cell phones became more common, they started to occasionally interfere with the communication equipment that pilots use on planes.
Because of this, airlines eventually banned use of cell phones while in the air. With modern devices, airplane mode makes it easy to turn off the potentially interfering radios and still enjoy offline content on your device, like games and music.
It's not completely clear whether using your phone on a plane still interferes with equipment like it did decades ago. Typically, airline staff will tell you to put your devices in airplane mode during takeoff and landing. But once you reach a cruising altitude, they give go-ahead to use your devices as normal.
Chances are that one person having their phone on as normal won't interfere with aircraft instruments. But if dozens of people have signals transmitting from their devices, a problem is more likely.
Using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in Airplane Mode
As it turns out, airplane mode isn't an all-or-nothing setup. On most devices, you can enable Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth, after turning airplane mode on. This will keep your cellular signal disabled, while allowing you to connect to Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth devices if needed.
You can utilize this on airplanes. Many airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi, so you of course need to enable Wi-Fi on your device to take advantage of this. You can also turn on Bluetooth to connect your wireless headphones for use on a flight.
Even better, the latest versions of iOS and Android have added a few small convenience tweaks in this area. If you enable airplane mode while you have a Bluetooth device connected, your phone won't disconnect from the Bluetooth device. This saves you a step if you planned to keep using that Bluetooth device even after enabling airplane mode.
Airplane Mode Uses Outside of Flying
Even when you're not on a flight, airplane mode can still come in handy.
One of its best uses is to preserve your device's battery life. The various radios of your device take a lot of energy to run, so by turning them off, you can use your phone for longer before its battery dies. This is especially the case if you're in an area with a poor cell signal and your phone is constantly trying to find a network to use.
Because your phone has less to worry about, enabling airplane mode can also help your battery charge more quickly. Finally, because it disconnects your device from the internet entirely, using airplane mode will also hide ads from appearing in apps. These ads rely on an internet connection to show. While this is useful for some mobile games, obviously you won't be able to use any apps that require an internet connection, so it's not perfect.
You might be tempted to use airplane mode as a way to silence distractions from your phone. However, this could cause you to miss important communication, so we recommend using tools to reduce annoying notifications on your iPhone, like Do Not Disturb. These offer more flexibility.
Airplane Mode Is a Useful Tool
Now you know what airplane mode actually does and what purpose it serves. It's important to use it on planes to comply with airline guidelines, but you can also use it in other contexts when you want your phone to completely disconnect from the internet.
Speaking of distractions, we've looked at how to keep your personal and work lives separate when working from home.