How to Use Your Laptop on a Plane

The most important thing you need to do when using your laptop in the air is to disable the wireless network. That is, unless the airplane offers wireless network access. Some airlines offer free wireless access, but most don’t and you will pay through the nose for it. You may still want to turn off the wireless network because it consumes battery power.

Turning off the wireless network is cinchy on most laptops ― specifically, the type that features a hardware On-Off switch for wireless networking. In that case, slide the switch to the Off position. You’re set.

When your laptop lacks a wireless networking hardware switch, you have to disable the wireless networking software. It’s easier to do so before you get on the plane, but you can make the switch in the air.

To disable wireless networking in Windows 7 and Windows Vista, follow these steps:

  1. Press Win+X to summon the Windows Mobility Center.

  2. Click the button labeled Turn Wireless Off.

  3. Close the window.

In Windows XP, you have to follow a different set of steps when there’s no hardware wireless switch:

  1. Open the Control Panel’s Network Connections icon.

  2. Right-click the wireless network connection.

  3. Choose Disable from the shortcut menu.

  4. Close the Network Connections window.

After you’re certain that the wireless networking hardware has been disabled, it’s time to work! Using your laptop in the air works just like using it anywhere, though it’s less comfortable and the milieu sucks.

  • Use your laptop only when the flight crew announces that it’s okay to do so. Likewise, when they tell you to turn off the laptop, don’t hesitate.

  • You most likely want to re-enable the wireless networking hardware after you’re back in civilization. To do so, flip the hardware switch. If you used the software method, repeat the steps but choose Turn Wireless On in Step 2 for Windows 7 and Windows Vista, or Enable in Step 3 for Windows XP.

  • Some laptops feature Airplane mode. Use it.

  • I recommend getting a window seat if you plan to use your laptop aloft. The main reason: You have control over the window shades. When it’s too bright outside, it makes seeing the laptop screen impossible.

  • You can buy screen filters that prevent other passengers on the plane from peering into the laptop screen. Get one.

  • If you’re lucky, the airplane cabin features EmPower, which allows you to plug in your laptop and use it without sacrificing battery life. You need an EmPower adapter to make the connection work.

  • If your laptop doesn’t have a wireless networking hardware switch, peruse the keyboard for a special key combination that disables the wireless network.

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