How does flight mode work?

As the name suggested, the main purpose of flight more, is to prevent possible interference with on-board technology on airplanes and radio traffic in the cockpit. Switching on flight mode on a mobile device deactivates all communication channels. You are no longer able to connect to the internet, make calls or send text messages.

What is flight mode?

Flight mode is a special function for mobile devices such as computers and smartphones that can be activated via the device’s menu. Sometimes the term ‘airplane mode’ or ‘offline mode’ are also used. Activating flight mode truly takes you offline, disabling all communication possibilities.

However, many functions on the smartphone, tablet or PC can be used during the flight, such as Bluetooth or on-board Wi-Fi. So you might asking yourself, why do you even need to switch on flight mode in the first place? Maybe you’ve even forgotten to do it one time and still nothing happened. So, what does it do?

Why does flight mode exist?

Smartphones emit radio waves in normal mode. These radio waves can affect airplane’s onboard electronics and disturb their normal function. Fortunately, it’s not possible for a mobile phone to bring the whole plane down by causing crucial electronics to fail. However, there is a risk that the radio waves have an impact on the pilots’ headphones.

If a switched-on phone is near the loudspeakers or headphones, they might cause a disturbing noise to occur. Remember those loud, crackling noises coming from your radio or speakers just before an incoming phone call? Well, the same phenomenon can happen right when the airplane’s pilot is having an important call with a nearby airport, potentially resulting in misunderstandings or loss of information. That’s why it’s important to switch on flight mode when flying.

Which interfaces are disabled when airplane mode is switched on?

Phones use various systems and networks for communication. By activating flight mode, you’ll deactivate your phone’s ability to use GSM, UMTS, HSDPA and LTE networks, Bluetooth, NFC and WLAN as well. So, making calls, sending messages and using the internet are no longer possible. Your phone also no longer emits radio waves and won’t interfere with other electrical devices.

Which functions can still be used in flight mode?

Luckily you don’t have to spend a long flight just staring out the window (unless you want to). Flight mode doesn’t make your phone completely unusable, as many of its functions can still be used:

  • Read e-books
  • Watch videos saved on your phone
  • Play games
  • Listen to locally stored music and audio books
  • Take, view, and edit photos and videos
  • Work with text programs, spreadsheets and write notes
  • Use calculators, calendars, alarm clocks and other gadgets

Music, videos and e-books are still available to you even offline if you have previously downloaded them on your phone. So, you can finally catch up on your favourite podcasts or finish that e-book! You can also get organised and delete some of your old your photos or videos or those WhatsApp GIFs. You can also be productive and draft e-mails to be sent when you are able to switch off flight mode, or even finish that work report or school paper.

Applications such as calculator, flashlight, offline notes and calendar will also function normally, as well as your camera. So, you can snap some beautiful views above the clouds or of the mountains underneath. You can also kill time on a longer flight by playing games on your phone. Just remember that functions that require internet connection won’t work, so don’t pay any games where progress can only be saved online. It is also possible to use GPS, though the metal shell of the aircraft usually weakens the signal. Sitting closer to the window usually enhances the signal.

How to activate flight mode?

Activating flight mode is very easy regardless of the device type. On mobile phones or tablets you’ll find the symbol of an airplane usually on the drop-down or swipe-up quick menu, which symbolises airplane mode, or you can also do this via the phone’s settings. Computers usually have this same icon on the quick-menu which can be accessed via the lower right-corner of the screen. The voice assistant on your phone should also understand the command “activate flight mode”.

When does it make sense to use flight mode?

Apart from sitting on a plane, enabling flight mode can be convenient also in many situations on the ground. Here are the advantages of flight mode at a glance:

  • You save your device’s batteries as all communication networks use a lot of energy.
  • Electromagnetic radiation from your phone is reduced.
  • You can make sure you won’t be disturbed when you don’t want to be.
  • You can enjoy being offline and having less distractions.

Many of us keep our smartphones next to our beds as they also function as alarm clocks. If you are worried about cell phone radiation, you can switch on flight mode during the night, as it won’t impact the alarm clock. Furthermore, no late-night e-mails or WhatsApp messages will disturb you.

Alternatively, you can activate night mode on certain phones that also switches off unnecessary functions. You can still allow calls or messages from important people to come through despite sleep mode being activated. It doesn’t reduce the exposure to radio waves.

You can also use flight mode to switch off. We all spend way too much time online and often feel the pressure to be constantly available. Next time you go for a walk, sit down to read a book or watch a film at home, try switching on flight mode as well. You might be able to concentrate better on feeling the sun on your face or immersing yourself fully into the plot of the book or movie. Flight mode also comes in handy if you need to study uninterrupted for an important exam.

Lastly, airplane mode also saves a lot of battery. Staying constantly connected drains your device’s batteries. So, if you need to use it for a longer period without recharging, enable flight mode.

Is it possible to use WLAN in flight mode?

Some smartphones allow WLAN to be used with flight mode. In this case you need to separately switch the WLAN connection back on. Airlines usually only allow WLAN on board if they offer it on board. This can come with extra costs, depending on your ticket.

Also remember that WLAN safety is not necessarily guaranteed on an airplane. So, avoid using it to send highly sensitive or business-crucial data. Hackers could have installed a backdoor to access the airplane Wi-Fi network, or someone could use special hardware to trick you to believe that their network is the official on-board WLAN and then intercept all traffic.

The difference between flight mode and silent mode

Flight mode blocks all network connections, while in silent mode they are active, but all notifications are silenced. In silent mode you won’t hear if you’ll get an e-mail or a WhatsApp message, allowing you to better concentrate while still being online. You’ll also get all visible push notifications in silent mode from your applications if you have enabled them.