What is flight safe mode and why is it important?

If you’ve taken a plane since the rise of mobile devices, you’ve probably experienced the cabin crew asking you to put your smartphone or laptop in flight safe, or airplane, mode. 

This request may seem strange to many of us, especially given that if you forget to change the settings to flight safe mode it appears that it doesn’t impact the journey at all. In fact, if it was extremely dangerous to not have flight mode enabled, it is likely that security or the cabin crew would ask you to show them you had complied. So why was flight safe mode created and what impact does it have? We uncover everything you need to know below.

The history of flight safe mode

Qualcomm claims to have invented airplane mode in the year 2000. Their idea was to design a way for travellers to use their devices during a flight without electromagnetic interference from phones, tablets, e-readers, and electronic headsets, affecting the way the plane operates. 

Yet it was only in 2013, after conferring with pilots, passengers, aviation manufacturers, and mobile tech representatives that the Federal Aviation Administration officially stated that passengers could fly with their devices in flight safe mode, rather than switching them off entirely.

Why is flight safe mode the new normal?

The main reason why passengers were asked to turn their devices off when flying was due to the impact electromagnetic interference from these objects might have on aircraft navigational systems. For example, back in 2011, some parts of flight deck screens on certain Boeing 737 aircraft proved to be susceptible to interference.

Nonetheless, this phenomenon was largely due to the fact that some plane systems were built before electronic devices became prolific in use. As a result, industry regulators were forced to take a cautious view about their safety. Nowadays, these older systems have been updated and tested, and the aviation industry is confident that the physical devices themselves pose no real threat to passenger safety. 

However, it is their view that the use of mobile networks like 3G, 4G, and 5G cannot be allowed as it is these signals that can cause additional noise in the pilots headphones. Flight mode turns off connection to these networks.

What happens if you forget to put your device in flight safe mode?

Today, most portable devices have been tested rigorously against all major airline plane monitors to make sure that they don’t provide a safety risk to passengers and crew. As part of the testing process, enough electromagnetic interference to represent an entire cabin full of devices of a variety of sizes, including some that are malfunctioning, is created to see if the pilots are impacted in any way. Given the number of devices required to create interference and impact navigational systems, airline staff don’t mind if a few devices are not put in flight safe mode during each journey.

It’s very rare nowadays that the flight crew would have to ask multiple times for people to put their devices into flight safe mode but if the pilots are hearing the interference, they will do so. After all, it is better for them to exercise caution than take any risks with passenger health and safety.


If you have any questions, or other technology queries, leave a comment below or tweet @techtroublesho1.

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