Once upon a time, Airplane Mode (or Flight Mode on Android) was simple. You boarded a plane, flicked on Airplane Mode and all of the phone’s data-transmitting radios were switched off, in case they interfered with critical safety instruments (narrator: they didn’t). Now things have got a lot more complicated. Here is our guide to what Airplane Mode actually does in 2022.
What does Airplane Mode on iPhone/iPad do?
Airplane Mode on an iPhone/iPad does switch off Wi-Fi and GSM radios, the latter of which handles calls, texts and mobile data. However, Bluetooth radios are not switched off, meaning you can continue to use wireless headphones on the flight.
However, Apple also allows you to tailor what’s switched on and off in Airplane Mode. For example, if you switch on Wi-Fi while in Airplane Mode to take advantage of in-flight Wi-Fi, the device will remember that the next time you activate Airplane Mode and leave Wi-Fi on thereafter.
Likewise, if you switch Bluetooth off during an Airplane Mode session, the device will remember that too.
There’s no way to switch on mobile data, other than by exiting Airplane Mode.
What does Flight Mode on Android do?
Flight Mode on Android is more old-school. When you flick a device into Flight Mode, all wireless radios are deactivated, including Bluetooth.
However, as with the iPhone, you can switch both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi back on whilst in Flight Mode. To do this, drag down from the top of the screen and tap the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth icons to power them back on.
Android doesn’t remember these preferences, so the next time you enter Flight Mode, all radios will be switched off again.
Bear in mind that Android is more customisable than iOS, so it’s possible that different manufacturers may have different implementations of Flight Mode settings.
Can apps access data without paying for in-flight Wi-Fi?
Many of the major airlines in the US offer “messaging only Wi-Fi”. This was designed to let you access low-bandwidth messaging services such as iMessage without having to pay for full Wi-Fi access.
Now some apps are using this service as a clever workaround to provide live updates. For example, flight-tracking app Flighty uses the protocol to deliver live flight updates – handy if you’re checking the status of a connecting flight, for example.