Airplane mode is still ubiquitous and found on all phones. It was absolutely essential to use airplane mode when flying to prevent potentially disastrous interference with sensitive aeroplane equipment, but it is now virtually obsolete for use in most modern airliners. Luckily for all, aeronautical equipment is very sophisticated and tested rigorously to make sure it is safe from electromagnetic interference. This hasn’t always been the case though!
Even in the early 2000s, all electronic devices had to be switched off for the duration of a flight and flight attendants would take this very seriously. On many flights, you would be asked to prove that electronic devices with wireless connections were turned off before take-off. Back in 2011, Alec Baldwin was famously kicked off a plane for refusing to turn his phone off before an American Airlines flight!
Of course, back then, we used phones less than we do now anyway and were probably less tempted to load up our favourite games before departure! Also, iPods and other dedicated music players that functioned offline were much more popular back then, as were Gameboys and other gaming devices that didn’t feature wireless connections. These may or may not have been permitted, but still, leaving phones turned safely off in pockets and bags was certainly easier then than it is now!
It wasn’t long before airplane mode was rolled out as a standard feature in phones, allowing users to shut down wireless connections. This allowed phones to finally be safely used on flights.
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Why Was Airplane Mode Developed?
There used to be a tangible risk of phones and other electronic devices interfering with sensitive aeronautical instruments, particularly navigation instruments. The risk was very real as some planes, namely some models of Boeing 737, had been found to be sensitive to radio interference from phones. Overall, though, this was definitely more of a safety precaution rather than a do-or-die requirement. Of course, we’re only talking about commercial airliners here and an array of smaller planes and other aircraft or boats would still be sensitive to radiation emitted by phones. You still cannot use phones in some parts of hospitals or petrol stations for this reason.
When we fly without airplane mode, our phones will still attempt to connect to send and receive various wireless signals. Planes are often travelling over many signal towers during flights and your phone will likely be picking up bits and pieces of signal from many of them in quick succession. Since your phone will detect that signal is low, it will try and compensate by increasing its efforts to find a signal. This causes spikes in radiofrequency (RF) activity related to your phone. A similar thing is happening with WiFi. Your phone will be constantly searching for WiFI whilst on a flight without airplane mode turned on.
What Does Airplane Mode Do?
Airplane mode shuts down all forms of wireless connections from your phone. This means your phone will neither transmit nor receive data from any of these sources:
- Cellular Signal: Airplane mode shuts off all cellphone signal functions. This means your phone will not try and find a signal at all. You won’t be able to use cellular data like 4G, nor make messages and calls.
- WiFi Signal: WiFi is shut down during airplane mode and your phone will stop trying to find WiiFi signals.
- GPS: GPS is slightly different as GPS doesn’t try and connect to external sources – it just receives data from satellites. However, some airlines have still required it to be turned off.
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth is also shut off by airplane mode.
Is Airplane Mode Necessary when Flying?
Aerospace manufacturers have always known that mobile devices are used onboard flights with airplane mode switch off, either purposefully or by accident. Engineering aeroplane components that are not adversely affected by mobile devices has always been a top priority. Today, every component of a plane is tested meticulously to ensure it is shielded from interference. This testing is rigorous and involves simulating interference from a variety of electronic devices in the cabin, many of which are far more powerful than your average phone, tablet or laptop.
So, if you happen to be a bad flier that is paranoid about whether or not that old lady in front of you turned 3G off on her Kindle then fear not!
Of course, there are situations where airplane mode is still used, such as in smaller one-prop or two-prop planes, helicopters or even on certain types of boats. Some airline operators do require airplane mode to be turned on still and are quite strict about it. It depends and you should always turn it off if you are unsure. Unless there is WiFI on the flight – a certain indicator that you are allowed to use WiFi – then there’s no real reason why you shouldn’t use airplane mode.
The Benefits of Airplane Mode
Airplane mode does have many benefits and it’s something you should probably use more often, even when you’re not flying.
1) It Saves Battery
Turning off all of those wireless connections saves you tons of battery life. These functions are some of the most battery-hungry going and airplane mode terminates all of them. Also, when your phone is trying hard to find a signal, it is really pumping power into its antennae. This can drain your battery life very quickly on planes as your phone will desperate to connect to radio towers below! WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS all come into this too – turning airplane mode on will greatly increase battery life whilst flying. If you’ve ever wondered why your phone battery plummets when you’re flying then this is why. Switch airplane mode on!
It isn’t just when flying that you can take advantage of this, though. Train travel also involves many signal dead spots when travelling through tunnels, especially when riding on undergrounds, subways or metro. In general, you can take advantage of airplane mode to save battery when wireless signals are not necessary.
2) It’s Safe for You
Your phone’s wireless signals all generate some level radiation. It’s this radiation that interfered with the instruments in older commercial airliners. Radiation emitted by phones is classified as non-ionizing radiation, which includes both radio frequencies and microwaves. Science is still uncovering the effects of prolonged non-ionizing radiation exposure but studies increasingly show the damage it can do, including increased cancer risks and male infertility.
What compounds the issue is that when you’re flying or otherwise have very low or no signal, your phone will be trying much harder to find one. This vastly increases the radiation emitted by your phone. Not only does this drain your battery but it also pumps increased radiation into bodily tissues – best avoided!
3) It Saves Data
Turning data off obviously saves data. Ever found your data somehow turning itself on? Airplane mode comprehensively ensures wireless data stays off. Perfect for avoiding hefty roaming bills at all costs. If you want to make a call, simply switch it back off again.
Does Airplane Mode Stop all Radiation?
Airplane mode terminates all wireless connections so yes, it does cut the vast majority of mobile phone radiation. Still, your phone will always emit some level of radiation provided it is switched on. Phones are powerful electric devices these days with batteries even exceeding 5000mAh. We all probably know how hot they can get! The bigger and more powerful phones get, the more radiation they will emit. However, airplane mode will clearly cut phone radiation emissions dramatically.
The Downside of Airplane Mode
Airplane mode isn’t particularly convenient to turn on and off all the time. Yes, it’s very useful for the several reasons we’ve covered and it can be taken advantage off in far more scenarios than simply when flying. Of course, though, we want to be able to use our phones as and when we want!
And then, there is an argument to say switching airplane mode on and off often will drain the battery in itself. It makes sense. Your phone has to stop and start many processes to enable and disable airplane mode and this probably can affect battery life. There’s no concrete information on this though and so long as you’re leaving your phone on airplane mode for a reasonable length of time, you’re probably safe to assume its beneficial for your phone’s battery life.
So, what’s the solution?
Avoid Cell Phone Radiation Without Airplane Mode
When you do need to use your phone – but want to avoid cell phone radiation – try an anti-radiation phone case. WaveWall’s range of shielding phone cases and covers for your iPad or laptop block up to 87% of cell phone radiation from reaching your body. You can use your device as normal whilst stopping harmful radiation.
Photo by Tim Dennert on Unsplash