When, at the start of a flight, you’re asked to either power off your phone or put it into airplane mode, you may wonder what’s the difference between the two and which one to choose.
Powering off your phone means switching it off completely, analogous to your phone battery being dead. When the phone is in airplane mode, it switches off all the network services such as WiFi, mobile data, and Bluetooth. Both will save your phone battery.
- Is airplane mode the same as turning off your phone?
- What happens when someone calls you on airplane mode?
- What is the difference between airplane mode and turning off WiFi?
- Should I put my phone in airplane mode or turn it off at night?
- Why do you have to turn off your cell phone when flying?
- Can you track an Android phone when it is in airplane mode, and the GPS is off?
Is airplane mode the same as turning off your phone?
Airplane mode, also known as Flight Mode on some devices, is different from switching off your phone.
Airplane mode was designed as an alternative to the FCC air travel requirements to put your device in a switch-off state to avoid radio interference with onboard flight equipment.
Its function is to disable all the device’s network capabilities, including WiFi networks, mobile data connections, and Bluetooth. In this mode, a device is not able to receive or make calls or texts.
Every smartphone nowadays comes with this feature. By using this feature, the user no longer needs to switch off the device.
When you switch off your device, on the other hand, it powers it down completely, as if your phone was battery dead. It becomes inoperable during that time.
In contrast, in airplane mode you can still access offline activities such as playing offline games, listening to your saved songs, using the camera, etc., basically any feature which can run without depending on the internet or mobile network.
What happens when someone calls you on airplane mode?
In airplane mode, the phone does not attempt to connect to a nearby cell tower, and the device isn’t sending or receiving any signal from the cell towers.
So when someone calls your number, whether a WiFi call or a voice call, the service provider informs the caller that the number they are calling is either unreachable or switched off at the moment.
When you turn on airplane mode, your device sends the network provider a notification that it is going into a switch-off state. This hides your smartphone to the world as if the phone was turned off.
When your device goes into a switched-off state, either because you switch off your phone or because it runs out of battery, the service provider will typically send this response to the caller:
“The number you are trying to reach is switched off at the moment.”
In both cases, when you disable airplane mode or switch your device back on, you should get all the notifications and missed calls you missed during that interval.
In cases when the phone is simply out of the network area or is not near a cell tower to connect to, the caller typically gets the response:
“The person you are calling is unreachable at the moment.”
What is the difference between airplane mode and turning off WiFi?
Disabling WiFi only gets you to a certain degree of disabling the network capabilities of your phone.
When you switch off WiFi, then your phone can no longer connect to a WiFi network or a hotspot. However, all the other network features still work, including:
- Accessing mobile data.
- Making calls.
- Sending or receiving text messages.
On a plane, you must switch off all network features so they won’t interfere with the onboard navigation and communication equipment’s radio signals.
Simply disabling WiFi isn’t enough as your cellular service is still active in the background. The phone will still try to send or receive signals from cell towers, potentially causing interference.
To completely shut down all network services, you need to either switch off your device completely or turn on airplane mode.
Switching off mobile data instead
By switching off just the mobile data, only the data aspect of your cellular communication is disabled.
The phone will still get text messages & phone calls and stay connected to the network. If you have other services like Bluetooth or WiFi switched on in the background, they are still on and present on stand-by.
When you put your device into airplane mode, it shuts all three of them off completely. A device in airplane mode now won’t be communicating with the radios on the device anymore and uses little battery. You won’t get any calls or messages either.
Reducing battery consumption
You might also be interested in saving the device’s battery by disabling WiFi or enabling airplane mode.
The first option only disables the WiFI networks. All the rest of the cellular services still run in the background and consume the battery even if not being actively used.
Airplane mode disables all cellular services and WiFi, saving the battery even more.
Should I put my phone in airplane mode or turn it off at night?
There have been cases worldwide where phones’ proximity at night caused harmful health effects.
Phone emits electromagnetic waves
Mobile phones and other wireless products use low-energy radio waves to send and receive information.
Phones are said to emit weak electromagnetic waves similar to X-rays. According to WHO, in 2011, placing phones in your proximity could increase the chances of getting carcinogenic side effects.
These waves, when in high quantities, can lead to the growth of tumors.
In light of this, it seems reasonable to keep your phone in airplane mode at night to cut off any signal transmission from happening.
Phone might catch fire at night
Phones generally schedule software updates during the night when there is minimal user activity, which can cause a lot of processing in the background, which in turn raises your phone’s temperature.
On top of that, some apps keep on running in the background like social network apps.
All this can result in your phone overheating, which at some point may become a hazard. A phone might catch fire if covered by a pillow or other bedding preventing it from cooling down.
Phone can disturb sleep cycle
Phones are also said to emit “Blue light” radiation through their screens.
This type of radiation is said to hinder the production of sleep-promoting hormones, melatonin, in the human body. This can wreck the sleep cycle and disrupt the circadian rhythms, resulting in insufficient sleep.
Overall, it’s a good idea to switch off your phone during the night to avoid these potential hazards.
Why do you have to turn off your cell phone when flying?
Because smartphones and onboard flight equipment all use radio signals, signals generated by phones can potentially attenuate radio signals coming out from or received by the aircraft, getting in the way of communication with air traffic control.
FCC regulations restrict the use of phones altogether, or at least the use of network features of a phone on airplanes to avoid causing interference with the communication and navigational equipment on board the aircraft.
For these reasons, flight crews request that you either switch off your phone or put it in airplane mode if supported.
Another good reason for turning off your phone or turning on airplane mode is to protect the cellular network on land. When flying low, you keep crossing multiple cell towers so your cell phone will try to connect to many of them, creating congestion and inference in the cellular network on the ground.
That said, some international airlines now provide cell phone service support on commercial flights when someone requires phone calling services. These in-flight phones use special equipment that can route messages and calls via a satellite network, forwarding it to the ground-level network.
Can you track an Android phone when it is in airplane mode, and the GPS is off?
If a phone is in airplane mode with the GPS switched off, it cannot be tracked by normal, conventional means. The GPS is unable to collect satellite location information. Airplane mode prevents the device from using on cell data to estimate location and to communicate any previously recorded location.
When a phone is in airplane mode, it can’t communicate with the cellular network, similar to being powered off. Therefore it’s unable to send its location, even assuming it knows it.
While enabling airplane mode typically doesn’t turn off the GPS, a GPS only receives satellite location data but cannot send any data on its own. The device needs to be registered on the cell network, which airplane mode prevents.
Airplane mode keeps the device from sending the tracking information over the network. However, an app could still record the phone’s movements and store it on the phone until the device gets out of airplane mode in order to send it.
If GPS is turned off, the device is unable to use it to determine its precise geolocation. Nevertheless, there are other ways for the device to find its location, such as signal travel time to multiple cell towers.
The cell network can also use radio triangulation from surrounding towers to estimate the device location.
These alternative tracking approaches, however, require that the device communicate with the cell network. Again, if the phone is in airplane mode, it cannot get or send any data from and to the cell towers and network, so these tracking methods won’t work.
That said, law enforcement agencies have access to classified tracking technology that can allow them to track a device even turned off. But that’s beyond the scope of this post.
Tracking a phone’s last location
If you lose the phone with airplane mode on and GPS switched off, it may still be possible to get the last location when the phone was last online using Google Timeline.
Google Timeline is an extension of Google Maps that shows you the last locations and routes where the phone was last online.
For using Google Timeline, follow the below steps:
- You should already be having a google account linked to your phone.
- Visit https://www.google.com/maps/timeline?authuser=0
- On logging in with the same Google account, you can see the location history as below: