How to Put Your MacBook in Airplane Mode
When you are on board a plane that’s about to take off, you’ll hear a familiar warning every time that 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 iPhones and Android phones have airplane mode, too, there’s no such easy setting found in macOS. However, it is an electronic device you need to stash away 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 instance, the airplane mode setting disables the following services:
- Cellular: airplane mode stops your phone from communicating with the cell towers on the ground.
- Wi-Fi: disconnects your device from all Wi-Fi networks and prevents it from searching for networks.
- Bluetooth: disables any Bluetooth devices your phone is connected to (AirPods, for example). Your phone also stops searching for these devices.
- GPS: stops your device from getting signals from the satellite.
Apart from that, there’s also the fact that your phone charges faster while in airplane mode. This is because your phone saves a lot of energy when it’s not trying to connect with the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth devices around it.
Is Airplane Mode All That Important?
Airplane mode was originally introduced because FCC regulations do not allow the use of cell phones to protect against radio interference to cell phone networks on the ground. At higher altitudes, active cell phones may try to connect with multiple cell towers for service.
Of course, this could cause interference between the plane’s radio system and control towers on the ground. While some may argue that it doesn’t make a major difference compared to something like noise on the aircraft radio, reports say otherwise.
The Aviation Safety Reporting System has recorded a few incidents where passengers’ devices allegedly caused radio static interference and even compass system malfunctions. That’s reason enough for the industry to stick to the rule.
Do You Need to Put Your MacBook in Airplane Mode?
So, 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 support built-in, there is no airplane mode.
This is a bit interesting, considering that you can turn on airplane mode in Windows 11 but not in macOS. The airplane mode setting in iOS and Android disables all radios in your device because it’s easier and safer than picking and choosing. But the truth is the radio signals emitted by your laptop are too weak to cause any kind of trouble.
Even then, you’re better off storing your laptop away during taxi or when the plane is landing or taking off.
Regulations on 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 aircraft carrier provides Wi-Fi. In a 2013 guidance update, the EU’s Aviation Safety Agency named smartphones, tablets, and e-readers as electronic devices, with no mention of laptops whatsoever.
So from a legal standpoint, there seems to be no need to put your MacBook in airplane mode. However, switching off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can help you save battery power, which is vital when you need your laptop to last for the whole flight.
MacBooks don’t have an actual GPS chip as your phone does. Instead, location services use nearby Wi-Fi networks to figure out your location. This affects battery charge only when an app is actively using it. So, if you have an app constantly trying to pin down your location, like the Weather app in macOS Ventura, you can either shut down the app or disable location services.
How to Use Your MacBook in Airplane Mode
While there’s no dedicated airplane mode for MacBooks, switching 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 using it in airplane mode:
- From the macOS menu bar, open the Control Center, and click the Bluetooth button to disable it.
- Do the same for Wi-Fi by clicking the Wi-Fi button and toggling it off.
- If you don’t see one or both of these icons, you’ve probably hidden them. In this case, you’ll need to go to System Settings and manually toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi settings.
That’s it. And while you’re at it, you can also quit any apps actively running in the menu bar. Normally, they don’t use many system resources, but when you want to conserve as much battery life as possible, you should shut down whatever you’re not using.
To quit an app running in the background via the menu bar, find the settings icon and click it. Settings usually include a Quit option.
Disable Location Services
To save even more battery life, you can disable location services. To do this, go to System Settings > Privacy & Security > Location Services.
Here you’ll see a toggle to turn Location Services on or off. You’ll also see a list of apps using your location. You can completely turn off Location Services or disable the setting for individual apps if you don’t want to turn the feature off altogether.
By following the steps above, you’ll essentially set your MacBook in airplane mode. Remember, if you want to set up Find My on your Mac, Location Services need to be enabled.
MacBook Airplane Mode: Unnecessary but Handy
Keep in mind that regardless of your settings, you won’t be able to use the laptop during taxi, takeoff, and landing. The cabin crew will ask you to stash it away until you’re at a safe altitude. So, the lack of an official airplane mode in macOS is not a real downside at all.
To summarize, you can use your MacBook while on 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.