How to Use Your Phone on a Plane

Have you ever wondered why you have to turn on airplane mode while on a flight? You may have heard that active cellphones could interfere with the plane’s navigation equipment, but the truth is that planes are not crashing because of phones. So, why should you put your phone into airplane mode during your next flight?

Airplane mode is a mode that turns off the wireless functions of your smartphone or tablet. It turns off the cellular voice and data connection on your phone, and often disables Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. By turning off your cellular service and Wi-Fi, you make the device safe to use in an airplane as per federal regulations and airline rules.

For the iPhone, at least, Apple makes it pretty clear that airplane mode is there to enable users to comply with airline regulations. The radios inside your device could emit electromagnetic interference, affecting the operation of the instruments and equipment on the plane. While there is scant evidence that mobile phones can interfere with navigation equipment or with the performance of an aircraft, the real reason airlines in the US make you put your phone on airplane mode is because of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations.

FCC regulations ban the use of cell phones on planes to protect against radio interference to cell phone networks on the ground. At 40,000 feet in the air, active cell phones would be picking up service from multiple cell towers on the ground. This could crowd the networks on the ground and disrupt service.

However, some international airlines have cell phone receivers installed on select planes so passengers on certain flights can call or text. You can also connect to Wi-Fi on a lot of domestic flights so you can surf the web and send messages. But most airlines restrict passengers from making calls over in-flight Wi-Fi.

While in airplane mode, you won’t be able to make phone calls, send text messages, tweet, or use Facebook. You also won’t be able to do anything that requires an internet connection because airplane mode will shut off your Wi-Fi connection. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) updated their guidelines in 2013 to allow passengers to use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections. So, if your airline has Wi-Fi on its planes or you have Bluetooth devices that you want to use during your flight, then you can still use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when your phone is in airplane mode. You’ll just have to switch them back on manually after turning on airplane mode.

While it has never been proven that a mobile phone signal has interfered with the navigation performance of the aircraft, just because it has never happened doesn’t mean it will never happen. So, do everyone a favor by putting your phone on airplane mode and turn off anything you don’t need to have on. Your pilots, who are responsible for getting you to your destination safely, will thank you later.