What Does Airplane Mode Do to Your Phone? See Here!

If you’ve traveled via air in the last few years and have a phone, you’ve likely had to put it on airplane mode. Everyone often does this before the plane takes off to follow the FAA regulation. But you may be wondering, what does airplane mode do to your phone?

This post discusses all you need to know about airplane mode, what it does, why it’s necessary, and its other uses.

What is Airplane Mode?

airplane mode on a phone

Airplane mode, also dubbed “flight mode,” is a specialized feature on smartphones. This setting suspends cellular signals and Wi-Fi connection temporarily. And it does all these while keeping your phone running and functioning.

No matter the brand, you can find airplane mode on any cellular device. And here’s an overview on how to toggle the setting across the two most popular systems:

  • You can activate airplane mode on your Android devices by swiping from the top of the screen. From there, find the settings tab and click on the airplane icon. And once activated, your phone should go into flight mode.
  • Meanwhile, you’ll find airplane mode on an iPhone’s control center. And you can see this by swiping down from the upper right or down to up. It depends on your iPhone’s model and age.

Even if your phone is in airplane mode, it’s still possible to do vital tasks. After all, all it’s doing is stopping your phone from receiving cellular or radio signals. So, as long as your smartphone is connected to Wi-Fi, texting and calling via the web is possible. 

But text messages already present before you toggled airplane mode should be accessible. Aside from that, you should also be able to open your documents, games, music, and movies as long as you’ve downloaded them beforehand.

What Does Airplane Mode Do to Your Phone?

turning on airplane mode on an iPad

Generally, airplane mode disables some features in your device. And whether you’re using an Android or Apple product, they all do the same thing:

  • Cellular. Your phone will halt its communication with cell towers. As a result, you can’t send or receive text messages or calls and other things depending on cellular data. 
  • Bluetooth. Flight mode can disable your phone’s Bluetooth connection. After all, it’s a wireless communication technology that can run earphones, keyboards, etc.
  • Wi-Fi. Your smartphone will stop scanning nearby Wi-Fi networks and trying to join them. Flight mode will disconnect you automatically.
  • GPS. Airplane mode can disable GPS-receiving functions in selected devices. It isn’t as consistent as cellular, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. But it depends on different airlines since GPS-abled devices only listen to signals. And they never transmit any. Still, some airplane regulations prohibit the use of GPS-receiving features.

You’ll see an airplane icon replacing the cellular signal bars when toggled. And you can see this on your phone’s notification bar, which appears at the top on Android and iOS devices. Even if it’s active, you should still be able to use your gadgets on the plane, and you don’t need to turn them off.

Why is Airplane Mode Necessary When on the Air?

sideview of an airplane in the air

As simple as it may seem, the reasoning behind the necessity of airplane mode isn’t. But to cut it short, airlines require “airplane mode” to mitigate all interferences. It keeps their sensitive systems intact and undisturbed, ensuring a safer flight.

Airplanes have communication and navigation systems that use radio frequencies from below. They’re sensitive to radio-signal interferences since most phones and tablets use them too! And this can be problematic since different connections have varying radio frequencies.

For instance, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 3G, 4G, and 5G data all use various radio frequencies. And since it covers different parts of the spectrum, it can disrupt the plane’s systems.

Specifically, the issue happens when adjacent channel interference (ACI) or crosstalk occurs. A radio receiver will pick up a transmission from transmitters nearby. And since it does this inadvertently, communications can affect the intended signals.

Imagine using an analog FM radio and not hearing a song because it got a different transmission.

Now, in an aircraft, pilots must have their communication lines to be 100% clear. After all, inconsistent connections can be an issue if they struggle to land a plane or face an onboard issue. Not having your phone in airplane mode can compromise this. And with this, you’ll risk everyone’s life on the airplane.

As scary as it may seem, one errant phone call is all it takes to disrupt a plane’s system. So, you can see why the FAA has regulated all passengers to place their phones in airplane mode while in the air.

Moreover, the feature has become more crucial nowadays thanks to the 5G data. After all, even if airplanes fly beyond 40,000 feet above, 5G can still affect them. As a result, the strong signals generated from the ground and onboard can interfere with the plane’s system.

Also, 5G devices can cause interference at the most crucial time of flight since they’re like the signals used by radio altimeters. And this bounces a radio signal off the ground and returns it to the plane’s antenna. As a result, the interfering signal can disrupt descent and landing. It can make it challenging for the pilots to see how far their planes are off the ground. And this isn’t a situation anyone wants to be in!

Does Wi-Fi Work While Airplane Mode is Active?

Wi-Fi connection working while airplane mode is active depends on your device. But generally, most modern smartphones let you use the Wi-Fi network even when in flight mode. When you toggle the feature, it’ll disconnect you, but you can enable it again. So, Wi-Fi makes an excellent alternative for the lack of cellular signal.

Here’s how to enable Wi-Fi once airplane mode is active on your device:

  • For Android devices, swipe down to up twice to go to “Quick Settings” and access the Wi-Fi tab. Give it a couple of seconds, and you should see the Wi-Fi turn on and connect to your phone automatically.
  • Go to your control center for Apple or iOS devices by swiping down from the upper right corner if you have a newer iPhone. Meanwhile, swipe upward from the bottom of your iPhone if it still has a home button. These will toggle the Wi-Fi connection the same way as Android devices.

Many airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi connections. You can use web-abled services even if airplane mode is active. If unsure, you can check with a flight attendant before you connect. Generally, airlines allow Wi-Fi when beyond 10,000 feet. 

So, you’ll need to remember to turn off your Wi-Fi during landing and descent.

But you might wonder, why doesn’t their Wi-Fi service affect aircraft communications? Remember, radio transmissions are what affect a plane’s system. And Wi-Fi doesn’t run on that. Instead, it uses satellite signals and doesn’t need to connect to cellular towers below. 

If you’re willing to pay for Wi-Fi on air or put up with a slow or spotty connection, you can! But not all airlines offer Wi-Fi, so consult an employee before connecting. Also, remember, you’ll only be able to use limited services since airlines prohibit making calls. 

Although it has no solid reason, I think it has to do with industry concerns regarding distracted and problematic passengers, especially individuals who prefer taking their calls via speakerphone.

And Bluetooth?

Bluetooth has a similar scenario as a Wi-Fi connection. After all, toggling airplane mode disables the feature, but you can always turn it back on. And unlike Wi-Fi or cellular signals, airlines don’t care much for Bluetooth since it has a short range. At most, it can reach up to 30 feet!

Turning on Bluetooth allows you to pair your headphones, keyboards, mice, and other similar devices. And even when you’re not in the air, you can use airplane mode to save battery while listening to music through your AirPods

How to Switch on Airplane Mode?

flight mode displayed on a phone

Toggling Airplane Mode on iOS Devices

If you have an iOS device, an iPhone, or an iPad, toggle the flight mode by swiping up from the bottom. From there, you should see a small airplane icon in the menu. And once you spot it, click on it, and it should turn orange, indicating airplane mode is active.

Toggling Airplane Mode on Android Devices

To toggle flight mode on your Android device, check out the following steps:

  1. Open the “Quick Settings” tab by swiping down from the top of the screen twice. Or, for a quicker route, swipe down once with two fingers.
  2. Search for the small airplane in the grid. If you don’t spot it the first time, you may need to swipe to the side to see more icons.
  3. Once you spot it, tap to toggle, and your Android device should enter airplane mode.

Toggling Airplane Mode on Windows

You can turn on flight mode on your Windows 10 system via the action center. Once there, press the window and the letter “A.” Or, click the notification bubble on the bottom right of the screen to access it. 

Once the tab appears, please search for the airplane mode toggle and click on it. But if you don’t see it, click expand to show more, as the feature might’ve been hidden by default.

What Happens When You Don’t Turn on Airplane Mode?

Issues might occur if you don’t toggle airplane mode while in the air. Although the chances of a massive disaster are rare, problems can still happen. After all, the consequences of an error or two can lead from one issue to another. So, be preemptive, don’t take a chance, and be safe.

Pilots use the airplane’s radio altimeters to see the exact distance of the aircraft above the ground. And they mainly rely on them whenever landing with low visibility.

Airplanes have “auto land” features where the plane’s autopilot system lands the aircraft without help from the pilots. And this is the safest route for landings with low visibilities. So, you can see why having clear connections and communications is crucial for planes.

Having your devices active and not in airplane mode can cause a severe signal disturbance. It forces the airplane’s radio altimeter antenna to pick up the rogue signals, disrupting the aircraft. As a result, the plane won’t be able to indicate the accurate height above the runway.

As you can see, that can have drastic and scary consequences. And it doesn’t matter if only or more people don’t have airplane mode toggled. After all, it only takes one errant signal and wrong circumstances for disaster to emerge.

Although it may seem like an overreaction, remember that planes have sensitive systems. And it’s better to be safe and turn on your airplane mode than to put your life and others’ lives at risk.

What Are the Other Uses of Airplane Mode?

what does airplane mode do to your phone (infographic)

For a feature that stops your phone from transmitting and receiving signals, you might be surprised to learn that airplane mode also has other uses. And here are some to explore!

✈️ Helps You Work Better 

Our phones are the number one bad guy when it comes to distractions. And it can be challenging to focus on a task when your phone’s notifications pop off. So, to prevent yourself from succumbing to the distraction, turn on airplane mode. 

With this feature enabled, you don’t need to worry about distracting notifications. And you can also use it to set a limit for yourself on the phone, helping you make good use of your time.

✈️ Troubleshooting 

If you’re having issues with your cellular or Wi-Fi connections, the best fix is to toggle the problematic signals off and turn them on again. And what better way to fix these problems than turning on flight mode? It’s a quicker and more effective way of troubleshooting your smartphone than rebooting it. 

All you need to do is toggle flight mode for a couple of seconds and turn it off. You can keep doing this until your Wi-Fi or cellular connections improve. 

✈️ Saves You Data

If you’re on a limited cellular plan and wish to conserve data, using airplane mode is foolproof. It ensures you don’t incur overage fees that stop you from sending texts, downloading data via cellular connection, and making calls.

✈️ Embrace Privacy and Isolation 

If you want to take a break from social media and be alone, enable airplane mode. It lets you be at peace and enjoy more privacy and isolation. Aside from that, you can also work without getting interrupted by random texts or calls. 

So, if you want to be alone, whether for work or personal purposes, enable airplane mode. After all, there’s no worse distraction than our phones!

✈️ Help Your Children

It might be surprising to see, but yes, airplane mode can also help your children. No parent wants to overexpose their child to screen time as it can lead to many issues. So, to limit your kid’s usage, turn on airplane mode. 

Aside from that, toggling this feature is also helpful when you let your kid use your devices. It prevents them from calling work on accident or buying hundreds of toys off of Amazon. And your kid shouldn’t notice anything different since they’ll still be able to play, capture photos, watch videos, etc. 

✈️ Prolongs Battery Life 

Turning on airplane mode is among the best ways to prolong your phone’s battery life. It stops your smartphone from continually looking for wireless networks or signals. And it’ll revert your device to its primary functions, making its battery last longer. 

So, if you have a long day ahead and forgot to charge your phone to complete, turn on airplane mode. This way, you’ll get more things done without worrying about draining your battery for the day. And your smartphone will still have some charge to spare when you need it later.

✈️ Charge Quicker

Charging your smartphone while it’s in flight mode makes it charge quickly. Specifically, it lets your phone absorb more power as it’s running on little to no transmissions. And since it’s not continually searching for a signal, it’s not surprising it can focus on charging more.

So, if you’re looking to recharge your phone but are in a hurry, switch on flight mode. 

✈️ Gives You A Break

Finally, if you want to take a break from your phone but don’t want to turn it off completely, turn on airplane mode. It makes it easier to disconnect from your phone but still leaves it to work with its primary functions. 

For instance, toggling flight mode is your best bet if you want to take a break from all the notifications but still need the alarm feature. 

The Future of Cellular Connection and Planes

woman using phone in the plane

As technology advances and plane systems become more innovative, cellular signals might be available to aircraft soon. The FCC in the United States is thinking of changing rules to allow cellular signals on airplanes above 10,000 feet. And as simple as it sounds, it’s more than letting passengers use their phones to call while in the air.

The new rule would allow texting and other cellular services to use data. But some organizations are considering prohibiting phone calls on planes completely. After all, not only can it be distracting to other passengers, but it can be disruptive as well. And texting should be enough.

Aside from that, you might be wondering, how will planes be able to allow cellular use? You won’t be able to connect to ground-leveled cellular towers when you’re thousands of feet in the air. Instead, airplanes will have cellular radios named “picocells.” They’re tiny cellular base stations where phones in places will connect to while on the air. 

Picocells function like regular cell towers, beaming their signals to a communication satellite. And this, in turn, transmits the connections back to a ground-leveled cell tower. There, the picocells in the airplane should be able to connect to the Earth’s cellular networks.

Moreover, because the plane’s transmitters are close to the smartphones on the airplane, devices can connect at their lowest transmitting levels. With this, phones can’t boost their signals to attempt to communicate to ground-leveled cell towers. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is setting your phone to airplane mode ideal?

A: If you want to extend your phone’s battery life, airplane mode is the key! After all, the feature halts the device’s access to data or radio connections. But the downside is you won’t be able to receive or give texts or calls unless to an emergency line.

Q: What does airplane mode do to your phone when on the airplane?

A: Airplane mode stops your phone’s access to any connection while on the plane. And this is crucial in ensuring the airplane doesn’t receive a disturbance in its system. If you don’t, your device will keep trying to connect with all cell towers the plane passes. 

Q: Is it possible to text with my phone if I turn on airplane mode?

A: The only way you can text with your phone while on airplane mode is via a Wi-Fi connection. Remember, the feature only blocks access to cell towers and should let Wi-Fi pass. With this, you’ll be able to send SMS texts via Internet-abled texting applications.

Q: Will my calls go straight to voicemail if my phone’s on airplane mode?

A: If your phone has a voicemail option, all impeding calls should go straight to it. Although you’ll see the notification of the ring, you won’t see who’s calling until you turn off the feature.

Q: What benefit does the airplane mode have on my phone?

A: The most significant benefit airplane mode has on phones is its ability to extend its battery life. It turns off many battery-draining functions, limiting your phone to its primary functions. Aside from that, this also makes it faster to charge, ideal if you’re looking for a quick recharge.

Final Words

What does airplane mode do to your phone? It blocks off impeding connections, bringing the device back to its primary functions. And this is necessary when in flight to not cause a disturbance to the airplane’s system. So, though it won’t let you pilot the jet, airplane mode will make your plane ride safer and problem-free!