Travel Leisure

Can You Use Bluetooth on a Plane?

Travelers hear it all the time when a plane is getting ready for takeoff: “Please turn your smartphones to ‘Airplane Mode.’” As travelers, we comply only to discover that turning a smartphone to Airplane Mode will turn off cellular, wireless, and Bluetooth connections altogether. It’s one thing to lose the cellular connection, but losing Bluetooth as well means that it will be impossible to use Bluetooth headphones or earbuds. That plane trip is suddenly becoming a lot longer without the use of headphones. So, is it okay to turn Bluetooth back on during a plane trip?

The answer to this question might be surprising. Let’s first take a deep dive into Airplane Mode, why it’s necessary in the first place, and then see if there is any rescue for those Bluetooth headphones.

Is Airplane Mode Really Necessary? 

As most already know, airlines usually require passengers to put their smartphones on Airplane Mode or Flight Mode while in the air. This mode disables the device from features like cellular network, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and sometimes GPS. Why is this necessary? Most people believe Airplane Mode (or flight mode) is essential on planes because smartphones can interfere with radio transmissions and signals on the plane. However, in 1992 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a study that found this not to be a threat on “non-critical flight phases” or any time except take-off and landing.

So, why are passengers asked to enable Airplane Mode?  Christian Thomas for Sound Guys wrote that this study was not an overall guarantee that phones can never be a threat. This led to the FAA leaving it up to airlines to regulate phones. 

Still, there is something that smartphones can disrupt when traveling, and it is the main reason Airplane Mode is required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). They can interfere with ground cell towers. Thomas explained that a mobile phone connects to the nearest tower when it is regularly in use. However, when on a plane, the altitude you are at plus the speed you are traveling exposes your phone to multiple towers at once. Therefore, your phone will try to connect to these different towers all at once. If you try to make a call or text at this time, it can cause issues for the towers and those connected to them on the ground. In essence, Airplane Mode is necessary to avoid disrupting cellular tower use for those on land rather than those in the air. 

Can You Use Bluetooth on a Plane or Not?

With all that information out of the way, what does it mean for the question, “Can you use Bluetooth on a plane?” It means you can still use Bluetooth on a plane in certain circumstances and depending on the device. What you are most likely to run into is an airline that allows Bluetooth headphones after take-off and up until landing.

Since Bluetooth is one of the features disabled by Airplane Mode, however, how can one turn it back on and still remain in Airplane Mode?

How To Use Bluetooth in Airplane Mode

Joshua Hawkins for LifeWire explained how to turn on Bluetooth while in Airplane Mode for Apple devices in three easy steps:

  1. With Airplane Mode enabled, swipe down from the upper right corner of an iPhone. If your iPhone has a home button, swipe up from the bottom of the screen.
  2. Tap the grayed-out Bluetooth icon to turn on the Bluetooth feature.
  3. You’ll now see that despite being in Airplane Mode, Bluetooth is enabled (it will turn bright blue when enabled).

Hawkins also explained that other phones can make the process of enabling Bluetooth while in flight mode even easier. This is usually done by swiping down from the top of the home screen to the phone’s notification center and tapping the Bluetooth button to turn it on. 

Remember that every airline is different. Some offer Bluetooth for inflight entertainment and have their own inflight Wi-Fi available for passengers. Others may prohibit the use of these things entirely. Check out your airline’s policies before traveling or ask a flight attendant when onboard. And, of course, listen to whatever rules you are given on your flight as disobeying can lead to fines. 

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