September 28, 2022


The Power of Technology

What Does Airplane Mode Do (And Do We Need It)?

What Does Airplane Mode Do (And Do We Need It)?

What Does Airplane Mode Do (And Do We Need It)?

Most of us know what airplane mode is and what, at the most basic level, it is for. Airplane mode temporarily disconnects your phone from external transmitters by cutting off the external signals the phone sends out to connect to networks. And if you’ve ever travelled by air, then you’ll know how airplane mode got its name and why. Limiting wireless traffic is said to be necessary to retain the proper functioning of all the complex electronics on board an airplane. 

This is, however, quite a low-resolution picture of what airplane mode is and, more importantly, why we need it (if, indeed, we do need it). 

What Does Airplane Mode Actually Do? 

To understand if we really need airplane mode (or if there could ever come a time when it could be abandoned) it is important to understand what it actually does. Most basically, airplane mode disables a set of functions on your mobile device. The functions that airplane mode disables can be grouped accordingly:


By disabling all cellular functions, airplane mode stops your device communicating with cell towers. This means you cannot receive anything that depends on cellular data, meaning you cannot take calls or send SMS messages. 


Airplane mode also stops your device communicating with any wireless internet networks. This naturally disables browsing functions and other features that rely on a wi-fi network. 


Airplane mode will also disable all Bluetooth functionality. Bluetooth is a small non-internet wireless communication network that is normally used to connect electronic devices together. 


And the last connectivity function that airplane mode disables is GPS. This means that all communication between your device and orbiting communication satellites – normally used for location and map services – is also cut. Interestingly, a device connected to GPS is not actually transmitting any signals, merely “listening” for those sent by the satellites. As these satellites will continue to transmit anyway, it is a little unclear why cutting this form of communication is necessary.

As you can see, airplane mode is a pretty thorough blockade on nearly all mobile communication, whether that is with cell towers, wireless networks, wireless devices, or communication satellites.  

Additional Benefits of Airplane Mode 

Before concluding one way or the other as to the real utility of airplane mode, it’s worth pointing out that it does have some additional side benefits which having nothing to do with air travel and yet are appealing for the user. For example, airplane mode is a great way to save the battery of a device, as it disables functions that normally use a lot of battery power. 

However, as batteries become more advanced – from innovative portable battery products such as the USB-C rechargeable 9V smart batteries produced by the likes of Pale Blue Earth or the highly efficient li-ion batteries which power electric vehicles – running out of battery when on the go is simply becoming less and less of a problem. 


So, having shown that some features of airplane mode are not really necessary, and that the battery issue is soon to be solved by other means – will there come a time when we can abandon it altogether? 

The truth is that flight navigation technology is also fast advancing. Airplane mode is rarely strictly enforced (i.e., flight attendants do not demand to check your phone before take-off), and this is because a plane’s navigation technology will not be sent haywire by passengers forgetting to turn it on. Nevertheless, it can certainly still interfere. And with air travel being so focused on safety issues, it doesn’t seem likely that it will be abandoned any time soon. Never – however – say never.