What Is Airplane Mode and How Does It Work?

When you're a frequent flyer, parts of air travel become second nature. You know to present your boarding pass at the gate, tuck your personal item under the seat ahead of you, and switch on airplane mode before takeoff. But what is airplane mode? And how does it work? 

In this article, we'll cover what airplane mode is, what it does, and what you can do with your device when it's switched on. We'll also run through a few ways to use airplane mode on the ground, plus some tips and tricks to stay connected when you travel.

Let's jump in (or take off?).

What Is Airplane Mode?

Airplane mode (also called flight mode) is a mobile setting available on most smartphones, tablets, and laptops. It's called airplane mode because most commercial airlines prohibit using wireless devices during flights. When switched on, airplane mode prevents your device from sending and receiving radio transmissions that could interfere with flight systems.

What Does Airplane Mode Do?

Airplane mode temporarily disables your phone's radio transmitters for wireless communication, including cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connections. Here's what this means for each one:

  • Cellular: Your phone stops communicating with cell towers, preventing you from sending and receiving calls and texts or using mobile data to get online.
  • Wi-Fi: Your device disconnects from its Wi-Fi connections and stops scanning and attempting to join available networks.
  • Bluetooth: Your device stops connecting to wireless headphones, keyboards, speakers, etc.

airplane wing Unsplash

What Is Airplane Mode For?

Airplane mode exists for two reasons. First, your cellphone emits radio waves that can interfere with aircraft systems and communications during a flight. These need to be switched off to prevent unnecessary interference. 

The other is that devices trying to get a network connection can overload cell towers and cause a service disruption for mobile users on the ground. This can happen especially during takeoff and landing when too many devices try to stay connected.

What Does Airplane Mode Allow?

When you switch on airplane mode, you temporarily disable your phone's cellular and wireless connections. This limits what you can do with your device. Here's a closer look and what you can and can't do when airplane mode is turned on.

What you can do in airplane mode:

  • Watch and listen to media already downloaded onto your device (e.g., movies, music, podcasts, etc.).
  • Play games that don't require an internet connection.
  • Write and save texts and emails that will send when you land at your destination, turn off airplane mode, and connect to a mobile network.
  • Use offline maps (keep in mind that features like live traffic, which requires an internet connection, will be disabled).

What you can't do in airplane mode:

  • Scroll social media apps like TikTok and Instagram.
  • Stream media that hasn't been downloaded onto your device.
  • Send and receive calls, texts, and emails. 
  • Browse the internet.

How to Turn on Airplane Mode

The flight crew will prompt you when it's time to turn on and off airplane mode during your flight. Most devices have a shortcut you can access from your home screen to turn airplane mode on and off. For example, you can swipe down from the top right corner of your iPhone screen and tap the airplane-shaped icon to enable and disable airplane mode. 

If this doesn't work, you can also access airplane mode from your device's settings.

people on a planeUnsplash

Using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in Airplane Mode

In-flight rules have relaxed over the past several years, and you can now turn on a Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth connection during your flight. When you turn on airplane mode, these usually switch off automatically, so you'll have to go into your device's settings to turn them back on. 

Does Wi-Fi Work in Airplane Mode?

Yes, many airlines now offer in-flight Wi-Fi you can connect to while in the air. It's typically allowed only when you're above 10,000 feet (not during takeoff or landing) and is often a paid service. Keep in mind that Wi-Fi availability, price, and bandwidth will depend on the flight (e.g., domestic vs. international) and the airline.

Turning on Wi-Fi while you're in airplane mode unlocks some key features. You can browse the internet, send and receive emails, stream music and video (remember there may be a limit to your Wi-Fi bandwidth), and use internet-based voice and messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Here's how to turn your Wi-Fi back on with an iOS device:

  • Go to Settings.
  • Tap Wi-Fi and toggle it on.
  • Select the plane's Wi-Fi network.

And how to do it on an Android device:

  • Go to Settings.
  • Tap Network & Internet > Internet.
  • Turn Wi-Fi on.
  • Select the plane's Wi-Fi network.

Does Bluetooth Work in Airplane Mode?

You can also switch on Bluetooth while your phone is in airplane mode. Bluetooth connections are short-range (only about 30 feet), so you can continue to use devices like wireless headphones, keyboards, and speakers.

Here's how to turn Bluetooth back on for iPhone:

  • Go to Settings.
  • Tap Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
  • Turn Bluetooth on.
  • Tap the device you want to reconnect.

And for an Android device:

  • Go to Settings.
  • Tap Connected devices > Connection preferences > Bluetooth.
  • Turn Bluetooth on. 
  • Tap the device you want to reconnect.

woman using a smartphoneUnsplash

Using Airplane Mode on the Ground

Airplane mode can also come in handy when you're on the ground. Here are a few ways to use airplane mode once you land.

Use Airplane Mode to Troubleshoot

You can use airplane mode to troubleshoot your cellular or Wi-Fi connection. If you're having trouble connecting, toggle airplane mode on for a few seconds, then off again. It's quicker than rebooting your phone and just enough to (usually!) help your device reconnect.

Use Airplane Mode to Save Battery Life

You can also use airplane mode to save battery life. Your phone's radios use a lot of power communicating with cell towers and scanning for nearby networks. Switching on airplane mode disables your device's transmitters, helping it save battery. Plus, when your phone isn't working so hard, it can charge faster! 

Use Airplane Mode to Disconnect

Airplane mode is also a great way to disconnect. Suppose you need focus time for work or downtime during travel. Switching on airplane mode switches off your wireless connections, giving you time and space to unwind or increase your productivity.

Use Airplane Mode to Avoid Using Data

Turning on airplane mode can also help you avoid using data. If you haven't purchased an eSIM or local SIM card, you can switch on airplane mode to prevent your phone from connecting to a cellular network. This can buy you time to sort out your connection without worrying about roaming fees.

Airalo global esim

Stay Connected With an eSIM

One of the easiest and most affordable ways to stay connected when you travel is with an eSIM. An eSIM is a tiny SIM that's embedded in your device and works 100% digitally. 

You can download an eSIM plan for your destination and instantly connect to a mobile network. There's no need to find a SIM card vendor, manage multiple SIMs, or worry about roaming fees. 

Here are just some of the benefits of using an eSIM from Airalo:

  • Connect to a mobile network within minutes.
  • Choose from flexible local, regional, and global data plans.
  • Say goodbye to expensive roaming charges.
  • Store multiple eSIM data plans on your device.
  • Need more data? Top up in the Airalo app.

Ready to try an eSIM? Browse eSIM plans for 200+ countries and regions worldwide in the Airalo store.


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