What is Airplane Mode on a Cell Phone?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2018
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Airplane mode is a setting on many cellphones which disables their wireless communication abilities, theoretically making them approved for use on aircraft. While in airplane mode, a phone cannot send or receive phone calls, text messages, picture messages, or video messages. However, functions like music players, games, calendars, and so forth can continue to be used.

The idea behind airplane mode is that many people wish to continue using their cell phones on planes to do things like listen to music and check appointments, but the use of cell phones on planes is banned due to the fact that their signals could cause interference. Airplane mode allows cell phone users to circumvent the ban, ensuring that their phones are safe to use on aircraft while the plane is in flight; electronic devices must be turned off for takeoff and landing.

There are two reasons why people are not allowed to use cell phones on aircraft, although the rules against cell phone usage may change at some point. The first reason is that the radio signals emitted by phones could interfere with the communications and guidance systems on the aircraft, which could potentially be very dangerous. In addition, cell phone networks on the ground cannot cope with cell phones being used on planes, because planes travel very fast and at high altitude, so a phone on a plane could confuse a network on the ground.


If a phone offers an airplane mode setting, the user's manual usually clearly shows how to turn airplane mode off and on, and typically it can also be found through the phone's menu. When airplane mode is activated, a small icon often shows up on the screen of the phone to indicate this. In some cases, the user may have to use a password to activate and turn off airplane mode, to ensure that it is not accidentally switched on and off.

Although airplane mode technically makes a phone legal to use on an aircraft, some airlines request that passengers turn their cellphones off anyway, or a flight attendant who is not familiar with the technology may ask you to turn your phone off. Sometimes, explaining that you are using airplane mode is sufficient, and the flight attendant will allow you to leave your phone on, but in other cases, you may be asked to turn it off. Although this may seem unreasonable, it is better to comply; in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, airlines are entitled to remove passengers from flights if they fail to comply with requests the airline terms “reasonable.”


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Discuss this Article

Post 42

Cell phones when used in planes and trains disrupt other passengers who want refuge from these yappers!

Can you imagine some moron close to you yapping for six hours incessantly. It may force some people to take drastic action. Be safe! Avoid possible accidents. No cell phones on planes!

Post 41

Does the airport mode on my desktop computer need to be on for any reason? I noticed that the ipod has an airport mode but never noticed it on my home computer. Was it transferred by downloading dropbox?

Post 39

The only reason not to allow cell phones to function on a plane are the obnoxious, loudmouthed morons who think they have to speak as if only then could the people they call hear them.

Post 38

A cell phone is a radio! In airplane mode, the radio portion is disabled. You can play games, etc. If your phone works on an airplane, you may be interrupting guidance systems, even though the frequencies are far apart. The cell system is complex. You are not getting free calls.

Because you are higher than normal, strong signals to different towers far apart would indicate your ESN has been stolen, putting it on the fraud list and disabled!

Post 37

If the phone is in airplane mode, say while on a cruise ship, would it prevent the excessive roaming charges incurred while aboard?

Post 36

In response to anon156670, they were able to use their phones because they weren't traveling at their usual height, hence being able to crash into a building.

Post 34

Can anyone explain that since cellphone coverage is not possible when flying on a commercial airliner operating at normal altitude (because of the reasons given in many of the above answers), then how come cellphone messages were claimed to have been received from airliners caught up in the events of 9-11?

Not only are some of these 'messages' highly suspicious in themselves (one claims a son calls his mother and says 'Hello, this is John Smith'.. when was the last time you called your mom and used your full name?) but it's clear from many engineering reports that you just can't make reliable cell calls from an airline at altitude. So what were these calls? And why hasn't the subject been properly investigated?

Post 33

Very silly that people still think cellphones can interfere with electronics on a plane.

There is no basis for this theory, and it has in fact been disproven by several independent tests, most notably MythBusters which airs on Discovery Channel.

Post 32

Cellphones don't do anything to interfere with a plane. Period.

Post 31

How about your cell phone in offline or airplane mode accessing the planes wi fi if available and your phone has skype and making a skype call, either skype to skype or skype to a landline with skype credit?

Post 30

If someone actually believes if you call from a plane the call is free, they are actually a moron. I have placed many calls from private planes, and they always show up on my verizon bill. So don't speak if you don't know what you are talking about.

Post 29

If my phone is in Airplane Mode, with no signals coming in or out, will any calls made to me still make it to my cell phone?

Post 25

The article is accurate. And don't believe the comments about phone calls would be free if we used phones on planes, that's not true at all. --Cell phone engineer.

Post 24

anon94575: Has it occurred to you that many companies give unlimited text messaging? It's in order to not interfere with radio frequencies. If you want to endanger your life by using your phone on a plane, by all means, be my guest.

Post 23

No. Airplane mode simply turns off the communication functions on your phone so as to keep it from interfering with the guidance and communications of the plane.

Even with airplane mode off, you would call normally because the networks are created by satellite. The network you connect to simply depends on your service provider. So, basically, the reason we are told to turn our phones off is to keep everyone on the plane safe and not because your calls will go free if you leave it on, which, by the way, will not happen.

Airplane mode was created for hardworking people to continue working on their phone during the flight.

Post 22

Okay basically, "Airplane mode" means that you can't send or receive messages 'because of interference with the aircraft.' However, the real reason is that because the cell doesn't know which network to use, the message you send would go for free. And therefore the network companies would be losing money. Simple. It's fine to use your phone.

Post 21

thanks it makes sense. I was going crazy.

Post 20

Thanks. This helped me so much. I was going on an airplane in a few days and I didn't know what it was.

Post 19

if someone texts you when your phone is in flight mode, will you receive the test when you turn flight mode off? Also, will it provide the accurate time that the message was sent?

Post 18

That was a clear and straight to the point answer and gave me all the info I needed. Thank you so much for that and keep up the good work as this is a straight to the point and not a lot of run around like other sites. thank you.

Post 16

i tried to turn my phone to the airplane mode and turn my wireless on then i can connect to the wireless and it allows me to make calls anywhere. i would like to know if my phone company can start charging me for that.

Post 15

Thank you for giving a great response to my question!

Post 14

I have a samsung sgh-a137 Go-Phone and it appears to be on "airplane mode and i cannot figure out how to change it. My 79 page manual does not help. Please help. I can't use my phone.

Post 13

I would like to know what someone who dials a phone that is set on Airplane mode hears. Is it a "Sorry, the mobile subsciber cannot be reached?"

Post 12

Thanks, just what I wanted to know.

Post 11

i wish it was on a timer. That way I can have my kids' phones turn off automatically during school hours.

Post 10

Answered my question perfectly. All I wanted to know is "the purpose of airplane mode." Your answer was the first one I found that actually answered that question, instead of giving me a list of what airplane mode allows you to do.

Post 9

Thank you so much, yes big help! That is a cool feature! Thank you for taking time to explain it! helped me a lot. thanks. --GBU

Post 8

Yeah, it does help. Thanks! :)

Post 7

thanks. that helped.

Post 6

thanks very much :) it definitely helped.

Post 5


Post 4

thanks. it helped!!

Post 1

Does airplane mode stop the cell phone from giving off radiation ?

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