The Reason You Need To Put Your Phone In Airplane Mode

If you're a frequent flier, you know all too well the feeling you get when trying to get those last-minute texts and calls to your loved ones in, before the flight attendants' announcement to switch your phone to airplane mode. Thankfully, that feeling is limited only to takeoffs and landings because many airlines now offer inflight Wi-Fi services, so you can continue to browse the internet without interruption and use internet-based messaging platforms. But, the expected advisory regarding our favorite gadgets no doubt makes many travelers curious: what is airplane mode, why is it found on more than just smartphones, and why is it so important to turn it on before your flight takes off?

Airplane mode is a frequently used setting found on devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops that stops all cellular, wireless, and Bluetooth features so that it doesn't interfere with the airplanes' communications systems when it's switched on. Once the feature is enabled, you can still use many other aspects of the gadget, such as the camera, games, and other apps, but you will not be able to make calls, use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, or stream data.

Why do you need airplane mode when you fly?

For safety reasons, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restricts the use of smartphones and other similar devices like tablets during flights. Over the last few years, however, there has been public pressure to change FCC rulings (via Washington Post), but aviation officials — for the most part — have erred on the side of caution and have continued to restrict their use while in the air. While it has never been completely proven that using your phone when up in the clouds can lead to disruptions severe enough to cause your plane to crash, it is always better to be safe than sorry when dealing with such a high-stakes environment.

A phone, tablet, laptop, and possibly even a smartwatch that is not in airplane mode can interfere with and potentially disrupt communications systems on your flight. How? For wireless devices to work, they emit and receive signals from the nearest cell towers. The further away the device is from a transmission tower, the stronger its signal has to be. On a flight, your phone is more than 40,000 feet away from a tower, so its signal strength will increase in an effort to reach the receivers far below. 

These signals may be able to disrupt the pilots' navigational and landing systems on board — which is probably the last thing you want to do on a flight. Contrary to popular belief, though, it's not that the signals themselves could potentially knock a plane out of the sky. Rather, Kenny Kirchoff explained to CNN in 2013 while working as an engineer with Boeing that the interference from gadgets could result in more work for pilots, and that's particularly problematic during the hardest parts of a flight, namely takeoff and landing — the same portions of the flight when travelers are told to switch over to airplane mode.

You don't have to be on a plane to use airplane mode

You don't necessarily have to be on a plane to enable your phone's airplane mode, either. The feature is great for the times when you want to conserve your phone's battery life, or if don't have an unlimited data plan and want to save on data charges. Furthermore, according to experts, having your phone on airplane mode reduces radiation exposure because when you shut off its wireless features, it stops releasing radioactive waves (via Environmental Working Group). 

Of course, airplane mode is also a quick way to put a stop to notifications, which could be useful if you're somewhere that requires silence like a movie theater — though you could also take advantage of the device's Do Not Disturb mode, which is found on most tablets, smartphones, laptops, and even smartwatches. Do Not Disturb will make sure your phone remains totally silent while still letting you see notifications on the screen as they arrive.

To turn on airplane mode on your phone, all you have to do is to look for your phone's airplane icon. If you have an Android phone, go to Settings and find the Network & Internet tab. Choose airplane mode, and toggle the switch whenever you want to switch the settings on or off. If you are an Apple user, open the control center on your Apple device and touch the airplane icon to activate airplane mode. Alternatively, you can also open the Settings app and toggle into airplane mode. Windows likewise has an airplane mode, which can be enabled on Windows 11 by clicking the Wi-Fi icon, then clicking the airplane mode button in the menu that appears.