How to Put Your MacBook in Airplane Mode

When you’re on board a plane about to take off, you’ll hear a familiar warning every time it tells you to turn off all your electronic devices or put them in airplane mode. This includes your phone, tablet, e-reader, etc. But what about your MacBook?

While iPhone and Android phones also have Airplane Mode, you don’t find such an easy setting in macOS. However, it is an electronic device that you must keep during taxi, takeoff or landing. So, let’s discuss what you can do in such a situation.

What does airplane mode do?

First, let’s clarify what airplane mode does and why it exists. On an iPhone, for example, the airplane mode setting turns off the following services:

  • Mobile: Airplane mode prevents your phone from communicating with cell phone towers on the ground.
  • Wifi: It disconnects your device from all Wi-Fi networks and prevents it from searching for networks.
  • Bluetooth: Turn off any Bluetooth devices your phone is connected to (AirPods, for example). Your phone also stops searching for these devices.
  • GPS: prevents your device from receiving satellite signals.

Apart from that, there is also the fact that your phone charges faster in airplane mode. This is because your phone saves a lot of power when it’s not trying to connect with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth devices around you.

Is airplane mode that important?

Airplane mode on MacBook
Is airplane mode that important?

Airplane mode was originally introduced because FCC regulations do not allow the use of mobile phones to protect against radio interference to mobile phone networks on the ground. At higher altitudes, active cell phones may attempt to connect to multiple cell towers for service.

Of course, this could cause interference between the plane’s radio system and ground control towers. While some may argue that it doesn’t make much of a difference compared to something like noise on the airplane radio, reports say otherwise.

The Aviation Safety Reporting System has recorded a few incidents where passenger devices allegedly caused radio static interference and even malfunction of the compass system. That’s reason enough for the industry to stick to the rule.

Need to put your MacBook in airplane mode?

Therefore, airplane mode for smartphones disables Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, and GPS services. While MacBooks have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, they don’t support cellular services and lack a GPS tracker. GPS and cellular signals cause the most interference, and since MacBooks don’t have that built-in support, there’s no airplane mode.

This is a bit interesting, considering that you can turn on airplane mode in Windows 11 but not in macOS. Setting Airplane Mode on iOS and Android disables all radios on your device because it’s easier and safer than picking and choosing. But the truth is that the radio signals emitted by your laptop are too weak to cause any kind of problem.

Even then, it’s best to put your laptop away during taxiing or when the plane is landing or taking off.

Regulation in Airplane Mode and Laptops

Using the phone on the plane
Regulation in Airplane Mode and Laptops

In 2013 the US Federal Aviation Administration allowed in-flight use of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, on the condition that the carrier provide Wi-Fi. In a 2013 guideline update, the EU Aviation Safety Agency he named smartphones, tablets, and e-readers as electronic devices, not mentioning laptops at all.

So, from a legal point of view, there seems to be no need to put your MacBook into airplane mode. However, turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can help you save battery power, which is vital when you need your laptop to last the entire flight.

MacBooks don’t have an actual GPS chip like your phone. Instead, location services use nearby Wi-Fi networks to find out your location. This affects the battery charge only when an app is actively using it. So, if you have an app that constantly tries to locate your location, like the Weather app in macOS Ventura, you can close the app or turn off location services.

How to use your MacBook in airplane mode

While there’s no dedicated Airplane mode for MacBooks, turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth essentially gives you the same effect.

Disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on your MacBook

Follow the simple instructions below to disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on your MacBook so that you can continue to use it in airplane mode:

  1. From the macOS menu bar, open the Control centerand click on the Bluetooth button to disable it. Disable Bluetooth from Control Center
  2. Do the same for Wi-Fi by clicking on the Wifi and deactivating it. Turn off WiFi from the control center
  3. If you don’t see one or both icons, you probably have hidden them. In this case, you will have to go to System settings and toggle manually Bluetooth Y Wifi settings. Disable Bluetooth from settings

That’s it. And while you’re at it, you can also quit any actively running apps in the menu bar. They don’t normally use a lot of system resources, but when you want to conserve as much battery life as possible, you should turn off what you’re not using.

To quit an app running in the background via the menu bar, find the settings icon and click on it. Settings often include a Let option.

Disable location services

To save even more battery, you can disable location services. To do this, go to System settings > Privacy and security > Location services.

Location services in settings

Here you will see a switch to activate location services On or off. You will also see a list of apps that use your location. you can turn off completely location services or disable the setting for individual apps if you don’t want to turn the feature off entirely.

Disable location services from settings

By following the steps above, you will essentially set your MacBook to airplane mode. Remember, if you want to set up Find My on your Mac, location services it needs to be enabled.

MacBook Airplane Mode: Unnecessary but useful

Please note that regardless of your configuration, you will not be able to use the laptop during taxi, takeoff and landing. The cabin crew will ask you to stow it until you are at a safe height. So the lack of an official airplane mode in macOS isn’t a real drawback at all.

Long story short, you can use your MacBook during a flight unless the staff tells you otherwise. If you want to connect to Wi-Fi, most airlines these days have in-flight Wi-Fi, but it can be a bit slow and ridiculously expensive, depending on the airline.

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