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Do Cell Phones Emit Radiation in Airplane Mode?

Americans live in a society connected by radiofrequency(RF) radiation. The Pew Research Center tells us that 96 percent of Americans have a cell phone of some kind, and 83 percent own a smartphone. About half of Americans own tablet computers, and about half of Americans own a Kindle or a Nook.

Whenever these devices are connected to the Internet or a cell service provider, they emit RF radiation. And even in airplane mode they emit potentially harmful radiation of a different kind.

Cell phones, tablets, laptops, and smart watches are so common that there is no escaping background RF radiation. Even at a distance, this radiation that has demonstrated harmful effects on birds, bees, and trees.  But scientists have only slowly come to realize that RF radiation is even more harmful to the health of the users of mobile devices.

The health risks of RF radiation multiply exponentially the closer we hold our devices to our bodies. You might wonder if Airplane Mode helps. In this article, we’ll explore the question, do cell phones emit radiation in Airplane Mode?

Quick note! If you’re interested in learning more about EMF radiation, Nick Pineault’s The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs is a great read. The book explains EMF radiation AND it’s entertaining. It does cost a few dollars but I highly recommend it!

RF Radiation emitted by iPhones

Every cell phone emits RF radiation when it is connected to a network. Since about half of all cell phones in use in the North America are iPhones, we’ll start with the question of just how much RF radiation is emitted by, say, an iPhone?

A study sponsored by Popular Mechanics found that an iPhone 11 generates RF energy that is absorbed at a rate of about 3.8 watts per kilogram of body weight of the cell phone user.

To put it another way, when you put a cell phone to your ear, you absorb the equivalent of about one-tenth of the output of a small light bulb.

The wattage does not sound like a lot, but It’s enough to heat the tissues in your head about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.  Just imagine the burn you would feel if you held a light bulb to your head.

How Much Do Phones Emit?

Person sitting on a plane with a cell phone turning it to Airplane Mode

A cell phone does the same thing on lesser scale. An iPhone emits more than twice as much RF radiation as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) believes is safe for human exposure. And the problem is not limited to iPhones.

The Popular Mechanics study built on the findings of earlier tests funded by the Chicago Tribune that found the iPhone 7 emitted more RF radiation than the FCC has found to be safe.

The iPhone 7 gave off twice as much radiation as Apple  reported in government filings. The Chicago Tribune also found high levels of RF radiation from the Apple 8, Apple X, Samsung Galaxy 8, and Samsung Galaxy 9, as well as other phones. So why hasn’t the federal government demanded lower levels of RF radiation to protect cell phone users.

You might be interested in: Cell Phone Radiation Chart: Top Phones Emitting the Most Radiation

It turns out that none of the cell phone makers had violated federal laws as they were written. Federal regulations have not been updated since the 1990s, when most cell phones were carried in handbags and purses or clipped to a belt, at least an inch (25 millimeters) from the body.

Holding a phone directly to the ear increases radiation exposure up to 10 times, and that radiation can contribute to serious, even life-threatening health problems.

Health Effects Associated with RF Radiation

RF (radiofrequency) radiation can have dramatic health effects. For example, surgeons can use a probe that generates RF radiation to heat and destroy a tumor.

Radiofrequency energy can be used to destroy nerve connections in the heart that cause abnormal heart rhythms.

Dermatologists can use RF to destroy age spots and varicose veins.

The operative term in all of those medical applications of RF radiation is “destroy.” Does RF radiation from cell phones also destroy tissue? This is what mainstream science tells us:

  • In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed a series of research studies and concluded that RF radiation is a possible human carcinogen. It’s not possible to conduct experiments with people that establish definitive cause and effect, but experiments with laboratory animals in a model of lifetime exposure to RF from cell phones found increased risk of certain kinds of brain cancer (glioma) and benign tumors covering nerve cells (schwannoma).
  • There have been both experiments and observations that have found that men who carry cell phones in their pants pockets produce sperm that is not fully formed or that has deficient “swimming ability.”
  • There is special concern about children’s use of cell phones. The radiation from any cell phone a child holds penetrates more deeply into the growing brain because of the size of a child’s head.

Cancer Risk

Just how serous is the problem?

Rates of cancer of the central nervous system have markedly increased for the youngest Americans, from infancy through age 24.

Rates of a kind of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiform are higher for every age group in the UK.

The Central Brain Tumor Registry of the U.S. (CBTRUS) has found increased rates of almost every kind of brain tumor at every age in the United States since 2006.

There have been reports of breast cancer in women who carried cell phones in their bras, DNA damage to the fine hairs lining the ear canals that make hearing possible, and increased ADD and ADHD in children.

RF from cell phones is not the only causative factor in these conditions, but is a common factor across all of them. 

The Environmental Working Group maintains the latest on health effects associated with cell phones. It’s a go-to resource for me. Check it out if you want the latest research.

What is Airplane Mode?

A person holding a phone forward with the front of the screen with an airplane on it and the words "Airplane Mode" and a toggle to "On" underneath

Airplane mode is a setting on cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other mobile devices that stops radio-frequency transmission by the device.

Sometimes the terminology used to describe airplane mode is flight mode, standalone mode, or offline mode.

Airplane mode disables Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and access to mobile phone services.

The name comes from the policy of most airlines of prohibiting the use of devices that emit radio waves during flight.

Do Cell Phones Emit Radiation in Airplane Mode?

A cell phone does not generate radio frequency (RF) radiation when it is in airplane mode. But that isn’t to say that mobile devices switched to airplane mode don’t emit any radiation at all.

Anytime a cell phone or any other mobile device is switched on, its screen will emit light.

As anyone who has ever had a sunburn knows, light can cause skin damage. Scientists have discovered that even the seemingly small amount of life from using a tablet or taking a selfie can generate cell-destroying free radicals of oxygen that trigger premature aging of skin.

These free radicals can activate snippets of DNA that tell the cell it is time to commit “cellular suicide” and be replaced by another cell, but adjacent cells may not get the signals that it is time to replicate themselves to fill in the gap. 

It takes about an hour to accumulate enough radiation from a cell phone or any other device in airplane mode to do damage to skin cells.

Visible blue light is the most damaging spectrum for skin.

Continuous exposure to blue screen light for several days, researchers note from studies of animals, can damage the cones in the retina responsible for color vision.

On the other hand, even a minute of exposure to RF radiation while holding a cell phone to your ear can heat tissues that will take an hour to return to normal temperature.

How to Turn on Airplane Mode on Various Models

Keeping your cell phone on airplane mode except when you expect to receive or want to make a call will not protect you from background levels of RF radiation.

But it will protect you from exposure to especially intense RF radiation generated close to your body. Here are the easy steps for putting your phone in airplane mode.

Apple iPhone — Navigation Steps to Turn on Airplane Mode

Switch on
Switch off

On an iPhone, go to Control Center and tap the airplane symbol.  You can also go to Settings > Airplane Mode and slide the setting on or off.

This procedure also operates airplane mode on an iPad or iPod Touch.

Samsung Galaxy — Navigation Steps to Turn on Airplane Mode

There are two easy ways to activate airplane mode on a Samsung Galaxy:

  • Open the Quick Settings panel by swiping down from the top of the screen. Put the phone in airplane mode by tapping on the airplane icon. You will see a small airplane in the status bar once it is activated. To turn off airplane mode, tap the airplane icon again.
  • Search for and select Airplane Mode in Settings. To turn on airplane mode, tap the switch. To turn off airplane mode, tap it again.

OnePlus— Navigation Steps to Turn on Airplane Mode

Airplane mode icon

Activate airplane mode on the T-Mobile OnePlus, wipe down from the top of the screen to reach Settings. Then tap the airplane icon in the second row to activate airplane mode. Repeat the process to turn off airplane mode.

Google Pixel — Navigation Steps to Turn on Airplane Mode

Airplane mode icon
Switch on
Switch off

From a home screen, swipe up to display all apps. Navigate Settings > Network & Internet. Tap the Airplane mode switch to turn it on or off .

LG V — Navigation Steps to Turn on Airplane Mode

Airplane mode icon

The easiest way to put your LG V phone in airplane mode is to swipe down from the top of the screen, and then tap airplane mode in the Quick Settings menu that appears next.

Airplane mode icon

Or if you are already at the home screen of your LG V phone, touch and hold the Recent Apps key, choose Settings, and tap on the airplane mode icon at the right of the screen,

Airplane mode icon

When the screen of your phone is not already lit, first press and hold the power/lock key on the back of the phone. The Phone Options menu will appear. Press the Airplane Mode option,

Using cell phones safely

Connected devices make life more enjoyable and more convenient, but they must be used with care.

Protect your brain from RF radiation by keeping your cell phone at least 1 inch away from your body at all times. RF radiation can’t be transmitted into an earpiece of headphones, which are much safer.

Consider an airtube headset or headphones as a way to provide that distance from your body.

And don’t stare at phone or tablet screens for hours on end. Look up and gaze out every 20 minutes to protect your eyes from the effects of blue light.

Read next: Tablet Radiation Levels of Popular Models

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