What Happens to Phones in Airplane Mode and Why It Exists

Travel is challenging in the modern era, with all sorts of rules and regulations related to what liquids you can bring and which 30-second span will require you to take your shoes off.One well-known, but not well-understood, rule is putting your phone into airplane mode before the craft takes off.Everyone presses the airplane mode button. Whether you have an iPhone or a Samsung Android device, or even if you’re using an iPad, Apple Watch, or laptop, you’ll likely run into situations where it can help to cut off notifications, text messages, phone calls, and cellular data.Flight mode is the quickest way to get offline — all you have to do is click the airplane icon on your control center.Still, many people don’t realize why they are doing it. Does it actually make a difference? Here is a rundown of why your flight attendants ask you to put your phone into airplane mode and what that function does.

Why Do Phones Not Work on Planes?

Cell phones work by connecting to a shared mobile network, like the ones run by Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T. These connections are made by utilizing cell phone towers. Our mobile devices need to be in the range of these towers for our phones to connect with our carrier’s network.When you get in an airplane, you’ll end up tens of thousands of feet in the air, and after 10,000 or so feet, you will no longer be in the range of a cell tower. Plus, your aircraft is going very fast and has solid metal walls, making it difficult to get a signal.Many airlines will offer WiFi on domestic flights over landmasses if you are willing to pay. This lets you connect to the internet and even connect to internet-based texting and calling. However, this connection to the onboard internet is not connecting you to any cell towers, making it a completely different process.

What Is Airplane Mode?

Airplane mode is a function that is present in all modern smartphones. It restricts the phone from making external cellular, GPS, and Bluetooth connections. This means no calls, texts, or data can be sent or received while your phone is in airplane mode.While it gets its name from airplane travel, you do not need to be on a plane to enter airplane mode. Many people keep their phones on airplane mode when they do not need to use them to avoid unwanted connections and battery drain.Many operations happen in the background on our phones, many of which we do not even notice, so it can be helpful to turn those connections off.Not all mobile devices call this function airplane mode. However, almost all modern smartphones will have a similar function that cuts off all external connections in this way. Even before the smartphone era, airlines insisted on making airplane mode a priority.

Why Does Airplane Mode Exist?

There is a disconnect between the commonly understood reasoning behind airplane mode and its actual purpose.In previous decades, it was claimed that cell and radio signals being transmitted from multiple devices in an airplane would disrupt both the radio frequency the pilots were using and the navigational equipment.Many of these complaints held water at the time; multiple pilots reported distracting noises and other glitches that came with the overuse of mobile phones on airplanes.However, in the 1990s, an investigation concluded that there was no significant effect on communication or navigational equipment from using cell phones with their network capabilities.As of 2022, there is no reason to believe that our phones pose any danger to the aircraft’s communication when we are flying. Instead, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has posed another reason for airplane mode.While the plane itself is not affected by these radio signals, there is still reason to believe that there are noticeable effects on the ground level.When flying, a person moves very fast through the air, and as a result, they connect to multiple cell towers as they pass by. This can disrupt the service provided by those cell towers, given the high volume of users on airplanes and the fast movement of the aircraft.

Why Do We Still Use Airplane Mode?

If there is no actual danger posed by using your phone network on a plane, then why do we push airplane mode so hard? Well, for starters, it is essential to remember that over two billion people per year fly, and that is a lot of people in the air per day.As stated, the FCC needs to protect cell towers on the ground to ensure they are not overloaded. These cell towers are built to cater to large groups of people in static communities, and all these people flying muddles the way they work.In addition to that, there are also new concerns popping up all the time. For example, 5G networks are spreading across the nation and are poised to become the primary cellular network our carriers connect to soon.Many in the aviation industry have pointed out the bands set aside for 5G are very close to those used for aviation. This has not caused any issues yet, but it is best practice to approach flying and using these networks with caution.Moreover, it isn’t even necessary to use cellular data after take-off, with in-flight Wi-Fi networks becoming more common. While voice calls are still inaccessible in the air, streaming services, web browsing, and messaging apps like WhatsApp or iMessage are easy to reach with most in-flight Wi-Fi services.


Airplane mode is not without its usefulness. It can prevent air travel from overloading ground cell towers, and it is a safeguard against future communication malfunctions. That said, it is also not the shield against aircraft damage that many people believe it is.Airplane mode has not been shown to make any notable difference regarding airplane safety.Modern cellular connections do not interfere with navigation systems or radios on the plane, meaning that you will not cause a crash from checking your emails either way. The primary purpose of airplane mode is to help ensure that these networks run smoothly for everyone.Different carriers have different levels of compatibility with airplane connectivity services, and some are adapting to 5G networks faster than others. Navi can help you determine which carrier makes the most sense for your lifestyle.Navi is a service that helps you find mobile plans and devices that fit your needs. Navi analyzes your preferences and matches them against industry insights to find you the best products and deals. Use Navi today to find the best possible cell phone carrier for you.


How phones work in flight | CNN Business

What Really Happens When You Don't Turn Off Your Cell Phone on a Plane? | Travel and Leisure

Here's why airlines make you put your phone on 'Airplane Mode' | Business Insider

Here's the real reason to turn on aeroplane mode when you fly | The Conversation

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