‘Airplane Mode’ is a common setting included on most modern wireless devices such as mobile phones and tablets.
As well as its obvious in flight usage, required to be activated on many flights due to potential interference with the aircrafts systems, it also has general usage whilst abroad and trying to avoid ludicrously high roaming charges.
Airplane mode will deactivate all connections to the mobile network and the internet. 3G, 4G, GPRS, and Wifi, for example, will all be deactivated.
This leaves many people thinking that they cannot get any connectivity to anything whilst airplane mode is enabled. So whilst abroad in particular, many people will selectively disable airplane mode whilst using their device to allow them to connect with the free wifi connections that are usually available in hotels as well as cafes, bars etc.
Unfortunately, with the latest devices, apps are likely to be in the background requesting data – for example, as soon as there is an Internet connection the commonly placed Weather widgets, on iPhones, Android and Windows devices are likely to try to determine your location and download the latest weather information available. This can all happen in a very short space of time – before you have managed to connect to your free wifi.
Although the time between you deactivating airplane mode and connecting to the free wifi may be short, on a two week holiday, doing this multiple times a day, it can all add up – especially when you’re outside the EU where roaming charges aren’t regulated. Over the past couple of years the EU has regulated roaming charges in the member countries but that just means that they should no longer be extortionate, not that they will be cheap when compared to the rates that you pay at home.
There are many reasons why there could be a more lengthy delay between you connecting to your free wifi, bad connection, dropping connection (and in the meantime connecting to the mobile network), forgetting to reactivate airplane mode just to name a few.
However, I did wonder why people were taking this risk with bills when they didn’t need to. Then it turns out, that there’s a small bit of information that a lot of people are unaware of.
When activating airplane mode, the presumption is that everything it disables cannot be re-enabled selectively. This is not true.
Whilst it is true, that you cannot reactivate certain things, such as cellular signal or mobile broadband (this would really defeat the purpose of airplane mode!), you can reactivate your wireless connection without having to deactivate airplane mode. By doing this, you avoid accidentally connecting to the mobile network and incurring charges.
Now you’ll be able to access the internet, download apps, sent instant messages, check the news and much more without the risk of dropping onto the mobile network and running up charges unknowingly.
Remember, if you’re just using Wifi, keep Airplane Mode activated – you only need to deactivate it if you want to use the mobile network, for example to send texts (excluding iMessages – which are sent over the Internet) or specifically access the mobile broadband network (for example, some mobile operators will only allow you to log in to certain apps or online areas whilst using their mobile network – for security reasons. Whilst these are usually free, they are highly unlikely to be whilst abroad as a different mobile carrier will likely be providing your service).
An alternative to this, is to of course switch off data roaming on your device, although on most devices this will leave the cellular signal unaffected, so you could ‘pocket dial’ somebody or send a mass text without thinking! Although it should protect you from any nasty mobile internet bills – which are usually the highest charging element of bills whilst abroad.