iPhone and iPad

Everything You Need to Know About Airplane Mode for iPhone & iPad

Philip Bates 25-08-2016

Grab your iPhone or iPad, dive into Settings, and you’ll find Airplane Mode. It’s a handy little feature, but not everyone seems to know what it actually does and how it affects your phone’s many other functions.


Does your phone charge faster in Airplane Mode? Will your alarm still work? Can you use Bluetooth? Here’s what you need to know.

What Does It Do?

If you turn on Airplane Mode either under the Settings menu or by flicking up to reveal Control Center, you’ll notice a few small differences on your device’s interface: you’ll immediately see carrier settings disappear, along with any semblance of Internet signal and reception. These will be replaced by a small silhouette of an airplane.


You can find the feature on most devices, not just your iPhone and iPad but also other smartphones, tablets, and laptops. It suspends signals on radio-frequency in an effort to stop interference. That means you won’t be able to send text messages, receive or make calls, or use Wi-Fi so iMessages are also moot. While you’re not technically prohibited from getting calls, actually answering them requires transmission of signals, so it won’t work. You’ll also not use up any cellular data.

GPS gets a little messier How GPS Works [MakeUseOf Explains] As an avid gamer, I’m surprised by the correlation between GPS-like features in modern video games and the proliferation of GPS technology in mundane life. When I was a kid, paper maps and cartography were... Read More . You’re not actually transmitting any signals, merely receiving them. Still, it largely depends on the airline as to whether that’s allowed or not, so Airplane Mode deactivates this function as default. In some situations, there’s a way around it, but it’s not ideal: you’d need to turn Wi-Fi back on (it’s also found in Settings) after switching to Airplane Mode. This will tell your approximate position by locating the nearest cell tower.

Similarly, Bluetooth is deactivated What Is Bluetooth? 10 Common Questions, Asked and Answered What is Bluetooth and how does it work? We take a look at Bluetooth, why it's so useful, and how to use it. Read More automatically by Airplane Mode, which is bad news if your earphones or keyboard use that wireless connection 6 Reasons Why You Should NOT Buy a Bluetooth Keyboard Before you commit to buying a Bluetooth keyboard, consider these drawbacks and issues that may cause you to change your mind. Read More , or if you have an Apple Watch How The Apple Watch Won Me Over When Apple announced their latest gadget, I wasn't entirely impressed. I ignored the hype, disregarded the reviews, and didn't pre-order one for myself. Obviously, I caved. Read More .

Fortunately, many firms let you use Bluetooth apart from during take-off and landing because Class 2 devices, including iPhones, have a very low range (roughly 10m) which shouldn’t affect the plane’s systems; indeed, some aircraft have their own Wi-Fi, which has a greater range anyway. If you do want to manually turn this on, you’ll find it in the same Settings and Control Center menus as Airplane Mode and Wi-Fi.

It’s 2016: Do Smartphones Really Affect Aircraft?

Sort of, but probably not the way you’re expecting.

In 1991, the Federal Communications Commission banned any calls made by passengers while in the air for fear they would interfere with electronic equipment on the airplane and towers on the ground. Airplane Mode was introduced in 2013 after a recommendation by the Federal Aviation Administration to let travellers use their smartphones in some capacity typically when the craft reaches over 10,000 feet.

Since that ruling 25 years ago, the ban has been questioned numerous times, but prevailing logic has erred on the side of caution, especially when so many lives could potentially be at stake. Not using electronic devices does at least put passengers’ minds at rest (and stop any ongoing calls annoying the whole plane). Nonetheless, there’s no evidence that signals from a portable device have ever resulted in a crash.

The notable reason not to use your phone when in the air is that it can cause some interference with radio-signals, risking annoying the pilots and air traffic controllers or even making them miss a crucial message. One pilot explained:

“[If] say 50 people on board are inconsiderate enough, who can’t be bothered to switch their cell radio off, there will be 50 phones constantly looking for cell towers at maximum power.  That is a lot of radio pollution… Transmitting cell phones can cause audible interference on the aircraft’s radios. You’ve probably heard this interference yourself when a phone is set near a speaker. It sounds like a “dit-dit-dit-dit” tone and it’s pretty annoying. Anyone who has had to track down audio interference in a sound system understands.”

That’s pretty rare, but does show that even sending an SMS can affect a craft.

Some companies have installed base stations, called picocells, which are about the size of a ream of A4 paper, on board: these relay phone signals to satellites, via a different frequency, that then transmit that data to terrestrial base stations. The picocells’ proximity to passengers means they can operate on very low power.

What Other Reasons Might You Use Airplane Mode?

It’s not just a helpful function for when you’re on an airplane, Airplane Mode has all sorts of uses.

In fact, I use Airplane Mode every day. You should too. The most important reason is that those rumors are true: your phone charges faster in Airplane Mode! In fact, it’s your battery’s friend whether it’s trying to charge 4 Tips To Increase Smartphone Charging Speeds Faced with a low battery warning right before you need to leave? These neat tricks can help you charge your smartphone faster than usual so you aren't left with a brick in your hand. Read More or if it’s merely trying to survive a little longer Avoid These iPhone Apps for Better Battery Life Killing background apps won't save your battery — in some cases you'll have to completely avoid an app in order to stop it from draining your smartphone's energy. Read More . Roaming and searching for nearby Wi-Fi or GPS uses up quite a bit of power, so Airplane Mode stops your smartphone from looking for signal connections. With those functions disabled, the energy you would be using stays in the battery. Think of it as your smartphone focusing its attention solely on recharging.

While some think the decreased amount of time isn’t worth losing connectivity, you’re advised to try it yourself as it may surprise you. In case you were worrying, it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on your battery long-term either.

On the other hand, if you’re having trouble getting signal or mobile Internet issues, switching Airplane Mode on and off again can help you regain carrier settings — almost like restarting the whole system.

It’s also handy if you’re trying to concentrate on something important. There are far too many distractions How to Do More in a Day by Blocking Mobile Distractions When you're trying to concentrate, distractions are a nightmare. It's time to block distractions and get things done with some free apps for Android and iOS. Read More in life, so Airplane Mode stops you getting disrupted by texts, Facebook, and game notifications.

Onr worry with freemium apps concerns accidental in-app purchases. You might not make that mistake yourself, but handing your device to children to play Angry Birds, for example, can unintentionally lead to huge credit card charges. Before you give kids your device How to Hide and Restrict Apps on iPhone Looking to lock down apps on your iPhone to control your children's access? Here's how to restrict apps using Screen Time. Read More , switching to Airplane Mode will stop any additional downloads, and possibly save you cash!

Which Apps Work and Which Don’t?

Turning off all signal transmission feels like a big step, especially on your first go. You’ll worry about small things, especially if you’re using it while sleeping 3 Relaxation Techniques to Help You Sleep Better Sometimes it takes too long to fall asleep. Technology can help us sleep better with some help from better sleep habits. Try these suggestions to shut off your brain. Read More . Let’s put your mind at rest.

Do Alarms still work? Yes, all functions in the Clock app will still work, so you can rely on your iPhone to wake you up in the morning.

Do Reminders work? Yes. Reminders rely on your device’s own clock, so no signals are needed. Beware reminders added from other devices (like a Mac) won’t be pushed to your device for as long as it’s in Airplane Mode.

Can I still send email? After activating Airplane Mode, your Mail app will tell you to either turn it off again or use Wi-Fi. Nonetheless, you might still be able to read messages in your Inbox, and in some cases, even be able to compose an email. It won’t actually be sent, however, unless you do manually turn on Wi-Fi or until Airplane Mode is deactivated. Instead it’ll wait in your Outbox. Remember to check it’s been sent before arguing with someone that yes, you did definitely reply to their message.

Do emergency numbers get put through? Unfortunately not. No phonecalls will be put through at all, despite you having the ability to look through your contacts. If you try to call anyone, you’ll get the notification, “You must disable Airplane Mode to make a call.”

Can I check the weather? Nope. Updates rely on an Internet connection. Look out the window.


Can I keep up to date with the FTSE? Does anyone really use the Stocks app? If you do, it’s rendered useless for the same reason as Weather. You may still be able to see data downloaded before you used Airplane Mode, if you’re really that concerned. News won’t work either, in case you’re wondering.

Can I check my Notes? Absolutely. These are all stored on your hardware, so don’t need any connections to the Internet or GPS. Naturally, you can’t AirDrop, iMessage, email, or share notes on social media unless you activate Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Creating new notes will still work, but they won’t be synced with your other devices until you disable the feature.

What about my Photos? Your camera won’t be affected, and you’ll still be able to browse your Albums. These won’t be synced with your iCloud account 5 Things You Need To Know About iCloud Photo Library Here's what you need to know about iCloud Photo Library, how it works and what it will cost you. Read More until you get access to Wi-Fi again either.

Can I flick through iTunes or the App Store? No. That’s why Airplane Mode is a good way to make sure you don’t make in-app purchases.

Can I watch videos or listen to music? If you’ve already downloaded media, you can watch and listen to things in that particular app. Otherwise, no, you can’t go on YouTube or stream anything not saved offline.

Will Siri work? Like all voice assistants, Siri relies on the Internet for all its information, so you won’t be able to use it. You will, however, still be able to record Voice Memos.

Can I play games? It often depends on the game, but in most cases you can play games because they’ve already been downloaded. Notable exceptions include any apps that need updating before you can play, or anything that relies on GPS The 9 Best iPhone GPS Apps Read More (like the location-aware craze, Pokémon Go).

Come Fly With Me?

See? Airplane Mode is a really great addition for iOS — and indeed other mobile operating systems! It can save you time, money, and even hassle for those times when you absolutely don’t want to be bothered by anyone.

Wondering about airplane mode with your Mac now too? Find out if and when you need to put your MacBook into airplane mode Do You Need to Put Your MacBook in Airplane Mode? Does your MacBook have a real "airplane mode"? Do you NEED to put your MacBook in airplane mode? Let's take a look. Read More with our guide.

Image Credits: I Can See My Home From Here (Alan Levine)

Explore more about: Bluetooth, GPS, iPad, iPhone, Travel.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Enjoyed this article? Stay informed by joining our newsletter!

Enter your Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Jonny
    July 2, 2019 at 6:12 am

    I’m not in a plane, I’m at home with airplane mode switched ‘ON’ as it’s night time and I’m asleep. My phone is by my bed charging, volume turned off yet I still receive emails and an annoying ‘bing’ to let me know I’ve just received one.
    Is this normal?

  2. J. Badger
    July 8, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    I received notifications from a game that upgrades were finished while in airplane mode. Does that mean they are running background code on my phone?

  3. Gigu
    April 9, 2018 at 11:32 am

    If I had some windows open before switching airplane mode On will those windows still be there waiting when I turn airplane mode off?

  4. Yours truly
    June 5, 2017 at 5:26 am