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airplane mode

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Airplane mode is a setting on cell phones, smartphones and other mobile devices that prevents the device from sending or receiving calls and text messages. Airplane mode is also known as offline mode, standalone mode and flight mode.

Airplane mode varies from one device to another. On an iPhone, airplane mode disables connectivity for cellular voice and data, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and location-based services.

Some airlines are beginning to implement in-flight Wi-Fi but transmission functions have not, until recently, been allowed during air travel. The most commonly stated explanation for barring wireless connectivity during flights is the need to prevent interference with the plane's onboard communications. There is some controversy as to whether that explanation is valid. In any case, however, cellular networks are not equipped to deal with devices connecting from flight heights and moving at flight speeds.

Airplane mode allows travelers to continue to use their devices unless airline rules require that the devices be turned off altogether. In airplane mode, only functions that require a transmission signal are disabled; the user can still access the device’s camera, games, MP3 player and so on. Some devices also allow users to write and save text and email messages to be sent when transmission is permitted again. 

“Airplane mode” is also used metaphorically, to refer to a lack of service or the user’s intentional avoidance of communications.

This was last updated in July 2012

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