Airplane mode, Aeroplane mode, Flight mode, Offline mode, or Standalone mode is a setting available on smartphones and other portable computers that, when activated, suspends radio-frequency signal transmission by the device, thereby disabling Bluetooth, telephony, and Wi-Fi. GPS may or may not be disabled, because it does not involve transmitting radio waves.

The name comes from the prohibition by most of the airlines of using equipment transmitting radio-frequency signal while in flight; using airplane mode prevents devices from transmitting.

When the “Airplane mode” is activated, it disables all voice, text, telephone, and other signal-transmitting technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be enabled separately even while the device is in airplane mode; this is acceptable on some aircraft. Receiving radio-frequency signals, as by radio receivers and satellite navigation services, is not inhibited. However, even receiving telephone calls and messages without responding would require the phone to transmit.

In a revised review in October 2013, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made a recommendation on the use of electronic devices in “airplane mode”—cellular telephony is disabled, while Wi-Fi may be used if the carrier offers it. Short-range transmission such as Bluetooth is always permissible. The statement cites the common practice of aircraft operators whose aircraft can tolerate use of these personal electronic devices, but use may still be prohibited on some models of aircraft.

While in airplane mode, most devices allow the user to continue to use their email client or other program to write text or E-mail messages which are saved in memory to send when airplane mode is disabled.

Although it is not possible to make normal calls or send text in airplane mode, devices such as some Nokia smartphones allow the user to make calls to emergency services even in airplane mode, while others do not.

As a side-effect, airplane mode reduces power consumption and increases battery endurance by shutting down the device’s transmitters and receivers.

What Does Airplane Mode Do?

Whatever device you’re using—an Android phone, iPhone, iPad, Windows tablet, or whatever else—airplane mode disables the same hardware functions. These include:

Cellular: Your device will stop communicating with cell towers. You won’t be able to send or receive anything that depends on cellular data, from voice calls to SMS messages to mobile data.

Wi-Fi: Your phone will stop scanning for nearby Wi-Fi networks and attempting to join them. If you’re already connected to a Wi-Fi network, you’ll be disconnected.

Bluetooth: Airplane mode disables Bluetooth, a wireless communication technology most people associate with wireless headsets. But Bluetooth can be used for many other things, including keyboards and mice.

GPS: Airplane mode also disables GPS-receiving functions, but only on some devices. This is a bit confusing and inconsistent. In theory, GPS is unlike all the other technologies here—a device with GPS turned on is only listening to GPS signals it receives, not transmitting any signals. However, some aircraft regulations do not allow the use of GPS-receiving functions for whatever reason.

Why is Airplane Mode Necessary?

Regulations in many countries prohibit the use of devices that transmit signals on commercial aircraft. A typical phone or cellular-enabled tablet is communicating with several cell towers and attempting to maintain a connection at all times. If the towers are far away, the phone or tablet has to boost its signal so it can communicate with the towers. This sort of communication could interfere with an airplane’s sensors and potentially cause issues with sensitive navigation equipment. That’s the concern that brought these laws about, anyway. In reality, modern equipment is robust. Even if these transmissions do cause problems, your plane won’t fall out of the sky because a few people forgot to enable airplane mode!

A more demonstrable concern is that, as you’re traveling very quickly, all the phones on the plane would be constantly handing off from cell tower to cell tower. This would interfere with the cellular signals people on the ground receive. You wouldn’t want your phone to do this hard work, anyway—it would drain its battery and it wouldn’t be able to maintain a signal properly, anyway.

Use Airplane Mode to Save Battery Power

Airplane mode is useful even when you’re on the ground, offering an excellent way to save battery power on your device. The radios on a device use a large amount of power, communicating with cell towers, scanning for and connecting to nearby Wi-Fi networks, waiting for incoming Bluetooth connections, and occasionally checking your location via GPS.

Turn airplane mode to disable all those radios. Bear in mind that this will block incoming phone calls and SMS messages on a phone, but it can be a great battery-saving tip if you really need that last bit of juice.

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