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When traveling internationally, it's often a good idea to put the phone in Airplane Mode before departure, activate wi-fi as needed, and leave the phone in Airplane Mode until returning to one's home country where calls/messages/data are charged at reasonable rates.

When on wifi, the phone can still receive notice that a system update must be performed, soon, with no user choice in the matter. It can even download and install this update over wifi. However, as part of the update process, the phone apparently disables Airplane Mode, connecting to a local tower to receive messages and whatever else might have been pending, potentially racking up a big bill in the process, which the user did not agree to or want.

Leaving the phone in a Faraday cage during the update, which might block transmissions to cell towers, would cause the update to fail until it is taken out, because wifi is required for downloading the update.

Why does the phone exit airplane mode during forced updates, and is there any way to avoid that?


Edit, responding to criticism that trying to maintain Airplane Mode during a system update is not a sufficiently clear or concrete objective:

There are multiple reasons why one might want to keep a phone in airplane mode. In addition to the cost factor noted above, if a destination does not have compatible cellular signals, a phone out of Airplane Mode may quickly drain its battery searching for towers, especially if the user doesn't know that the phone takes itself out of airplane mode without notice. In some zones, there are also restrictions on cellular transmissions (example) which do not necessarily apply to low-power wi-fi connectivity, such as on-board some commercial aircraft.

There are multiple different reasons why a person might be in a setting where it's important to maintain Airplane Mode but still wish to use the device for offline and/or Wi-Fi capabilities. This question is about how to do that even when the phone maker is pushing a system update.

I would expect "How do I do this for reason X?" "How do I do that for reason Y?" and "How do I do the same thing for reason Z?" to all be closed as duplicates of this same question.

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If you want to block communication with your mobile network provider there is a second option: You just have to make sure the MNO can not identify your devices.

You can easily achieve that by removing the SIM card from your device.

This does not work of course in case you have a phone with eSIM and you use the eSIM (as the eSIM can't be removed physically from your device).

  • Thanks! I'll hold off on marking Accepted to see if another answer also provides an explanation as to why the issue happens. – WBT Oct 23 '18 at 18:27
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Turn off your Data and turn on "Flight Mode", now if Flight Mode gets reset you still have Data turned off (and Update won't reset that, because there would be a flood of complaints).

I have always done my updates over Wi-Fi using the settings to select that option. Using the Towers to Update would be expensive (for me).

No Data usage, but 34 GB of Wi-Fi.

Turn on "Flight Mode".

I updated Android recently. No Data usage, and a big savings by only using Wi-Fi. Only turn on Data if you must use it. Of course it depends on where you are and how much open Wi-Fi is available.

Rather than "activate Wi-Fi as needed" you need to get into the habit of "active Data as infrequently as possible" and leave Wi-Fi on (so when you hit an open Network you'll be pinged that you have something).

Remember not to use your passwords on strange unknown Networks, Google has single-use passwords if you are desperate and double authentication to ensure that it is you on your phone and not someone else, elsewhere. More about that is a different question, almost certainly a dupe.

  • This presents a useful strategy if data usage is the sole concern. However, the question presents the cost issue of receiving pending messages (e.g. SMS) etc. as a secondary effect of airplane mode being disabled even when the update is done over wifi. Disabling mobile data won't address that. Thanks for the post anyway! – WBT Jun 12 at 13:11
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    Note: The answer is still helpful because it will stop incoming messages that use the data channel. Thanks again! – WBT Jun 12 at 15:42
  • @WBTI receive SMS for free, sending is where I'm charged (and my cheap plan includes 1000's of messages). Same if someone phones me, it's not long distance for me, only airtime. Most travelers either purchase a SIM for their travel or make arrangements with their current provider to get roaming cheap for a month. By stating in your question exactly what you want to achieve rather than saying what you are doing (or want to do) is most likely to get a better answer. See "XY Problem" on main Meta. Arguably you could turn the phone off. It's been 8 months and you don't like either answer? – Rob Jun 12 at 15:56
  • Do you receive calls and SMS for free when you are traveling in another country (with compatible network signals)? When traveling for a few days or weeks, it might not be worth it to figure out arrangements for a local SIM or roaming package, when the device has plenty of utility when connected to Wi-Fi and that's enough to satisfy anticipated needs. I think the question is clear and concrete about trying to prevent the phone from exiting Airplane/Flight mode even when the software is updated. The answers helpfully address tangential points but do not answer the question directly. – WBT Jun 12 at 16:06
  • @WBT Depending upon which country you live in (answers here are generally geared for North American readers, unless you ask for a country specific answer) most foreign cellular providers are cheaper and there are ways to roam for free. Thanks for editing your question, that ought to benefit you by providing more exposure and ensuring future readers are even more clear about your objectives. A poor answer is: If your phone is rooted you can use Tasker w/plugin or NFC. – Rob Jun 12 at 22:21

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