Is the airplane mode necessary

What does airplane mode do and is it really necessary?

Airplane mode deactivates a device's cellular device. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth - all functions for wireless transmission. But many planes now offer in-flight WiFi, and cellular access may soon be available for planes. So where is the airplane mode?

Even if you never fly, airplane mode is a quick way to turn off many of the battery-draining radios on your device. This can extend the battery life of your device as long as you don't need any of these two-way radios.

What does airplane mode do?

Regardless of which device you're using - an Android phone, iPhone, iPad, Windows tablet, or whatever - Airplane Mode disables the same hardware features. These include:

  • Cellular: Your device is no longer communicating with cell towers. You can't send or receive data that depends on cellular data, from voice calls to SMS messages to cellular data.
  • Wireless Internet access: Your phone no longer searches for nearby Wi-Fi networks and tries to join them. If you are already connected to a Wi-Fi network, you will be disconnected.
  • Bluetooth: Airplane mode disables Bluetooth, a wireless communication technology most people associate with wireless headsets. However, Bluetooth can be used for many other purposes, including keyboards and mice.
  • Geographic positioning system: Airplane mode also deactivates GPS reception works, but only on some devices. This is a bit confusing and inconsistent. In theory, GPS differs from all other technologies: A device with GPS switched on only listens to the received GPS signals and does not send any signals. However, some aircraft regulations do not allow the use of GPS reception functions for some reason.

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When Airplane Mode is turned on, it often shows an airplane icon on your device's notification bar, which appears on the top bar on Android devices, iPhones, and iPads. You can also use devices on the airplane during takeoff and landing, as long as airplane mode is on. You don't have to turn them off.

Why is airplane mode necessary?

Regulations in many countries prohibit the use of devices that transmit signals in commercial aircraft. A typical cellular phone or tablet communicates with multiple cell towers and tries to stay connected at all times. If the towers are far away, the phone or tablet will need to amplify its signal so it can communicate with the towers. This type of communication can interfere with an aircraft's sensors and potentially cause problems with sensitive navigation equipment. In any case, that is the concern that generated these laws. In reality, modern devices are robust. Even if these transmissions cause problems, your airplane won't fall from the sky because some people forgot to turn on airplane mode!

A more proven concern is that if you were traveling very quickly, all of the phones on the plane were constantly being passed from cell tower to cell tower. This would interfere with the cellular signals that people receive on the ground. You wouldn't want your phone to do this hard work anyway - it would drain the battery and it wouldn't be able to properly maintain a signal anyway.

Use airplane mode to save battery power

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Airplane mode is useful even when you're on, which is a great way to save your device's battery. A device's radios use a lot of power, communicate with cell towers, search for and connect to nearby WiFi networks, wait for incoming Bluetooth connections, and occasionally check your location via GPS.

Turn on airplane mode to disable all of these radios. Keep in mind that this will block incoming calls and text messages on a phone, but it can be a great battery-saver tip when you really need that last bit of juice. This is especially useful on a tablet if you are only using your tablet as an offline e-reader anyway.

You can turn on WiFi and Bluetooth in airplane mode

WLAN is allowed on some aircraft. In fact, many planes now offer in-flight WiFi. Turning on airplane mode always turns off Wi-Fi. However, on most devices, you can turn Wi-Fi back on after you turn on airplane mode. Other radio signals are still blocked, but you can at least connect to Wi-Fi networks.

Some devices also let you turn on Bluetooth when airplane mode is on. Whether this is permitted depends on your airline and the relevant regulatory authority.

Cellular signals will soon be offered in aircraft

Cell phone signals could get into the planes soon, too. The U.S. FCC is trying to change the rules to allow cellular signals on planes flying over 10,000 feet. This is usually explained in the media as "allowing cell phone calls on airplanes," but it's more than that. The ruling would also allow SMS sending and any service that uses cellular data. In fact, the US Department of Defense is considering banning telephoning on airplanes. The end result is that you will be able to send text messages and use cellular data on an airplane, but not be able to make voice calls. To be honest, that would be pretty uncomfortable for the people around you anyway.

Normally you can't connect to the cell towers on the ground, but an airplane that allows cellular devices would be equipped with “picocells”. These are small cellular base stations to which telephones on the plane are connected just like any other radio tower. The picocell then sends its signal to a communications satellite, which sends the signal back to a base station on the ground, from which a connection to the earth's cellular networks can be established.

Because the transmitter on the aircraft is so close, the devices with the lowest transmission power can communicate with the phones on the aircraft. Phones on the plane do not amplify their signal and try to contact cell towers on the ground. This "eliminates the possibility of interference," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.


Even if cell phone signals were on airplanes, and even if every airplane on earth were equipped with a picocell, an airplane mode would still be necessary. Aircraft that allow WI-Fi only do so over 300 meters, and the regulations proposed by the US FCC would also only allow cell phone signals over 300 meters. Flight mode would still be necessary during take-off and landing - or only if you want to close your eyes and save your phone's valuable battery life.

Photo credit: Yuichi Kosio on Flickr