Technically, Airplane Mode (or 'Aeroplane Mode' as we Brits should really call it) is meant to prevent your phone from interfering with the instruments on board an aircraft (even though we know the risk of that is relatively low). However, it can prove useful in a host of other situations too, so here are six handy airplane mode tricks.
1. Save battery life
You've got a long day ahead, and you know that you need to make a phone call at the end of it. Will your all-singing, all-dancing smartphone still have enough juice left when the time comes? Switching to Airplane mode significantly reduces the amount of background work your phone or tablet is doing. You could also turn your phone off completely, but Airplane mode does at least let you snap photos, read files and check the time.
It's particularly effective for those days when you know you'll be in and out of signal range. If your phone loses reception, it supercharges its internal electronics to try and pick up a network, which can rapidly run down your battery. If you're planning a hike in the woods or some DIY in the basement then Airplane mode can ensure you still have some battery life left when you return to civilisation.
2. Speed up charging
Heading home for five or ten minutes before going back out on the road? Charging your phone at the local bar? Airplane mode means your smartphone is hardly doing anything at all — cellular connectivity, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and location services are all switched off, so if you're charging up your mobile device then that battery indicator will go up at a faster rate in Airplane mode.
This is essentially the same point as the first one – Airplane mode means extra battery life — but it's worth making the distinction. It can be a valuable trick to call on if you know that your time will be limited at the power socket and you want to get on the move again as quickly as possible.
3. Avoid distractions
For many of us, a smartphone is a constant source of distraction. Emails, calls, Snapchats, and special offers crowd our home screens and mean we're checking our devices more than we really should. There are various ways to tackle this problem, from putting your phone in a drawer to switching off notifications, but Airplane mode has a number of advantages.
Firstly, it cuts off all apps and features in a couple of taps, so it's quick. Secondly, unlike the option of putting your phone in quiet mode or turning it over, you won't be tempted to have a quick check or get distracted by a flashing LED. Thirdly, it means you still have access to the stuff that's on your phone, whether it's a photo to show a friend or notes for your meeting.
Obviously, calls and texts are disabled, so you probably don't want to have your phone in Airplane mode all day. That said, if you're heading into a meeting at work or you're on a date then it's a useful option to have. It's also handy for leaving your phone overnight. You won't get woken by calls and texts, but your alarm app will still operate as normal.
Of course it works for tablets too — perhaps you want to have a serious, distraction-free session on your favourite mobile game without any pop-ups or notifications getting in your way. Switching your device to Airplane mode not only cuts off all alerts in one fell swoop, it also leaves more battery capacity for the task at hand, whether that's a movie or the latest first-person shooter.
4. Prevent people from knowing you’ve read their messages
A bunch of messaging apps — including Facebook Messenger and Snapchat — now tell you when your messages have been read, and though the feature can sometimes be disabled, it usually means it’s disabled in both directions (for both sent and received messages).
Enter Airplane mode: switch it on before reading an incoming message, and the sender is none the wiser. It depends on the app in question, but we’ve discovered that it works in WhatsApp, Snapchat, and many others.
There are downsides, of course. You can’t actually use your phone for very much at all until you’re ready to mark the message as read — but in some situations it could give you a few minutes’ thinking space while you come up with a suitable reply.
5. Troubleshoot network problems
In addition to saving battery life and preventing interruptions in a cinema, airplane mode also resets your mobile network connection. It’s like rebooting your phone without having to sit through the loading screen for several minutes each time.
As a result you can use it for all kinds of network problems when you’re getting patchy coverage or your phone is having trouble switching between towers (or indeed networks). It can even help if you’re having difficulty latching on to a Wi-Fi signal somewhere.
It’s by no means a magic trick that instantly solves all networking problems, but quickly toggle airplane mode the next time you’re struggling for connectivity, and see if it helps. If not, then you’ll have to return to the tried and trusted approach of turning your phone on and off again.
6. Make your phone instantly kid-friendly
A lot of the concerns you might have about your kids using your phone — from visiting shady websites to making in-app purchases — can be solved by putting your device in Airplane Mode before handing it over for them to do whatever they want with it.
Obviously it’s not foolproof. They can easily toggle Airplane Mode back off if they know how, and they probably want to do something online anyway. But if you don’t want to wade through the standard parental control options then it’s a handy ‘quick fix’ to have.
You can use it when a kid of your acquaintance wants to play a game for five minutes, maybe, or for long car journeys where the youngsters want to watch an (offline) movie without having to worry about them replying to your incoming emails as well.