What Is Airplane Mode?

What it does and when to use it

If you've ever been on a plane, you're familiar with the announcement that comes before take-off on every flight to turn your mobile devices and cellphones on Airplane Mode. This mode essentially turns off all network communications on your phone so they don't interfere with flight instrumentation panels. But there's more to this mode you should probably know.

What Is Airplane Mode on a Cellphone?

Airplane mode on a cellphone turns off all network communications, including mobile connections, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. On some phones, it even turns off the phone's GPS function.

Initially, Airplane mode was designed to be used when flying, so you could keep your phone on, but turn off any wireless communication signals that might interfere with the plane instrumentation panel. These days, however, most planes have Wi-Fi available, and many planes may soon have cellular access, so what's the point in using Airplane Mode these days?

A person enabling Airplan Mode on their smartphone on a plane.
Techa Tungateja / Getty Images 

What Does Airplane Mode Do?

Because Airplane Mode turns off wireless communication signals, it also has some additional benefits. Because Airplane mode disables hardware signals, it can also increase your battery life. Among the functions that Airplane Mode disables are:

  • Mobile Networks: This is your service carrier's network (or networks). When this is disabled, you cannot send or receive calls or text messages.
  • Wi-Fi Internet Connections: Your 'other' network connection is your Wi-Fi internet connection. When this is disabled, you can't connect to the internet.
  • Bluetooth Connections: Bluetooth is used to connect to all manner of devices, including headphones, watches, and other portable devices. When Bluetooth is turned off, the connection to these devices is terminated.
  • GPS Tracking: Airplane Mode might not turn off GPS tracking on all devices, but for those that do, your location is no longer available on the GPS network until you turn off Airplane mode.

These functions can all be power hogs, so in addition to using Airplane Mode when you're actually flying, it's also a good option when your phone's battery is low and you want to reduce the amount of power the device is using. Of course, with Airplane Mode enabled, you won't be able to send and receive calls, so depending on the way you use your phone, this feature may or may not be useful for helping to reduce the amount of power your device uses.

Airplane Mode can be a lifesaver if you're a parent with small children. Because Airplane Mode disables all communications signals, switching your phone to Airplane Mode before you hand it to a child can save you a lot of trouble from them accidentally making phone calls or connecting to websites or apps that consume a lot of mobile data.

Can You Use Wi-Fi on Airplane Mode?

Even though Wi-Fi is included in the Airplane Mode function, and is automatically turned off when you enable Airplane Mode, it's possible to turn it back on, separate from the other functions that Airplane Mode controls. Since many flights now offer in-flight Wi-Fi, re-enabling Wi-Fi might be something you consider doing when you are required to set your phone to Airplane Mode.

In-flight Wi-Fi is usually very expensive to use, so unless you're on a long flight, or you have urgent business that needs to be handled via the internet, you might want to consider waiting until your plane lands to re-enable the Wi-Fi capabilities of the device.

Similarly, Bluetooth may also be re-enabled separately from the other functions of Airplane Mode, so if you have a set of Bluetooth headphones or another Bluetooth device you want to connect to your phone while it's set to Airplane Mode, you can go into your Settings and re-enable this function without turning the devices mobile network back on.

Not all airlines will allow you to use Bluetooth while in-flight. Before you re-enable any features that are disabled by Airplane Mode, be sure you are familiar with the policies of the airline on which you are traveling.