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Save Battery Life in the Air: How to Use Wi-Fi With Airplane Mode Enabled on Your iPhone

Posted by Jim Tanous on August 27, 2018
iphone airplane mode wifi

Like most mobile devices, the iPhone has long had an Airplane Mode feature. When activated, Airplane Mode disables the iPhone’s wireless communication protocols such as Wi-Fi, cellular data, and Bluetooth. This lets you use the device during a flight without the risk of the device’s radio signals interfering with the aircraft’s own communications and operation.
However, the rise of in-flight Wi-Fi and better understandings of the likely over-zealous precautions of prohibiting cell phone use during a flight mean that failing to put your iPhone into Airplane Mode when you want to use the flight’s Wi-Fi won’t have catastrophic consequences. But there’s still one good reason to turn off your cellular radio during a flight: battery life.

Why You Still Want to Enable Airplane Mode

Modern smartphones automatically allocate power to the device’s cellular antennas to compensate for variations in signal strength. If you’re near a cell tower and have strong signal strength, your iPhone will run its antennas at lower power; in situations where you’re far from an antenna, your iPhone will expend energy boosting the antenna signal to maintain the best connection.
During a flight in which you have Airplane Mode disabled in order to use Wi-Fi, your iPhone will expend energy searching for cellular signals and boosting any that it might faintly detect. As a result, you’ll shorten your iPhone’s battery life, leaving you with less power when you land or preventing you from completing your movie binge during the flight.

Use Wi-Fi With Airplane Mode Enabled

Thankfully, there’s a way to get the best of both worlds: using Airplane Mode and Wi-Fi at the same time. The key is the order of how you enable these features. If you enable Airplane Mode, it will automatically turn off cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. If, however, you then re-enable Wi-Fi, it will turn only Wi-Fi back on while leaving the iPhone’s cellular radio off.
You can do this in one of two ways. The first method is the iOS Settings app. Just head to Settings and first enable Airplane Mode via the toggle switch at the top of the menu. Then, once Airplane Mode is on, tap the Wi-Fi option and choose your desired network.
iphone airplane mode wifi
The second method is similar but via the iOS Control Center. Swipe to activate Control Center and first tap the airplane icon to activate Airplane Mode. Then, tap the Wi-Fi icon to turn just your iPhone’s Wi-Fi radio back on.
iphone airplane mode wifi control center
Note for frequent travelers: once you manually enable Wi-Fi using one of the methods above, it will stay activated the next time that Airplane Mode is turned on. In other words, the next time you turn on Airplane Mode, your iPhone’s Wi-Fi won’t turn off along with the cellular and Bluetooth radios.

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