These days, most major airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi, which means you can text on a plane over the internet by using certain text-messaging apps even without a cellular connection. Depending on the airline, you may need to pay for internet access, although some airlines offer in-flight internet for free and/or free text messaging services.
Long gone are the days when being on a plane meant you were pretty much completely cut off from the rest of the world. Technology being what it is, it was only a matter of time before airlines introduced Wi-Fi to airplane travel.
Whether you’re a fan or not, you can pretty much use all of your electronic devices while you fly, just as you would on the ground. Of course, there are still a few exceptions, the most notable being that you can’t make cell phone calls (at least, not yet in this country). You can, however, text on a plane, provided you have internet access during your flight.
Keep reading to learn more about how to text on a plane without using cellular data, what text messaging apps you can use, and which airlines offer free Wi-Fi and allow you to send texts from your cell phone, laptop, and other personal electronic devices. To start off, let’s take a quick look at the history behind the restricted use of mobile phones on planes.
Planes and cell phone signals
It used to be that flight attendants would tell you to turn off your mobile phone before your flight took off. From then on, cell phone use was strictly prohibited, and you were required to keep your phone turned off for the remainder of the flight until the plane reached the gate. This was mainly due to warnings by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the danger of radio signals from cell phones.
At the time, it was thought that the cell phone system could cause “electromagnetic interference” with aircraft systems, such as navigation and communication systems. However, while this may have been true at one time — or at least believed to be the case — this is no longer an issue, says Jason Eckhoff, CEO at BusinessClass.com.
“Cell phones interfering with airplane operations is largely a myth. While older planes had concerns about radio interference, modern aircraft are designed with shielding to prevent electronic interference. However, regulatory bodies continue to restrict voice calls during flights due to potential social discomfort rather than technical interference.”
Eckhoff adds that it’s highly unlikely that your cellular network would even work once you get in the air: “Using cellular data for texting on a plane is technically possible, but it’s unlikely to work efficiently due to the plane’s high altitude and distance from cell towers.”
These are just a few of the reasons why passengers are required to put their phones in airplane mode while flying. However, thanks to ever-changing technology and the desire to meet the needs of customers, many airlines have introduced Wi-Fi-enabled flights, during which you’re allowed to surf the internet, stream movies and TV shows, and send and receive text messages.
What exactly is airplane mode?
Anyone who has ever traveled by plane knows that before takeoff, the flight attendants require all passengers to switch their cell phones to airplane mode. But what exactly does airplane mode do? Basically, it turns off cellular data on your phone.
The lack of a cellular connection means passengers cannot make phone calls, send texts or emails, or browse the internet over a cellular network. If you want to send text messages or otherwise use the internet during the flight, you will need to access the airplane’s Wi-Fi, provided the flight offers this service.
Can you text on a plane?
Technically, it is possible to text on a plane, assuming you can access the internet during the flight. However, there are a few caveats to be aware of. For example, you won’t be able to send SMS messages, as these require a cellular network connection, which is prohibited on U.S.-based airlines.
Another issue you may run into is the fact that not all airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi, or at least not on every one of their flights. Additionally, many airlines that do have internet don’t offer free Wi-Fi access, which means you may need to pay to access the aircraft’s Wi-Fi before you can send text messages.
According to Eckhoff, each airline is different, so you will want to check before you fly to ascertain the availability of in-flight internet: “Texting on planes can work through different methods. While traditional SMS messages require a cellular connection, messaging apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger can utilize in-flight Wi-Fi if available.”
Which airlines offer free in-flight Wi-Fi and free text messaging?
As of 2023, there are a few airlines that give passengers completely free access to an airplane’s Wi-Fi, as well as free text messaging services:
JetBlue offers free high-speed internet access on every seat of every plane on its domestic flights. You can browse, shop, watch movies, listen to music, and send and receive text messages. To connect to JetBlue’s internet provider (known as “Fly-Fi”), follow these simple steps:
- Make sure your phone is in airplane mode.
- Connect to the Fly-Fi network in your device settings.
- Open up a browser and go to flyfi.com.
- Follow the on-screen instructions to either sign in as a guest or log in with your TrueBlue account.
Norwegian Airlines provides free (albeit limited) gate-to-gate Wi-Fi access on most of its flights, which you can use to send text messages. The catch is that you’ll need to be quick: according to its website, Norwegian’s free Wi-Fi is only available for 15 minutes. You can also pay to upgrade to high-speed internet if you need a little more time and/or bandwidth. To connect to Wi-Fi on a Norwegian Airlines flight, follow these steps:
- Put your device into flight mode and enable Wi-Fi.
- Connect to the network “Norwegian Internet Access.”
- Open your browser, where the portal should load automatically. If it doesn’t, type in norwegianwifi.com.
- Choose your preferred package (either the free version or the paid upgrade), then enter your details. Once it connects, you’re ready to text!
It should also be noted that, per the Norwegian Airlines website, “some areas and countries do not permit Wi-Fi transmissions and the system automatically discontinues the service over such areas. If so, Wi-Fi will be available again when we have passed these zones.”
The Australian-based Qantas airline has internet access on select domestic flights operated by its B737-800 and A330-200 fleet in partnership with ViaSat. After making sure your cell phone is in flight mode, simply select the “Qantas free Wi-Fi” network in your settings and follow the prompts in the “Welcome onboard” screen to connect.
Airlines that offer free texting through messaging apps
As mentioned previously, you can’t send SMS texts during a flight due to the lack of cellular service, so some airlines offer free text messaging through a messaging app — such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Apple iMessage — that doesn’t require you to pay for internet use. The following are some of the airlines that offer this service:
While Alaska Airlines does charge for its internet service ($8 on most flights), you can send text messages from your electronic devices for free. Only flights with a Wi-Fi connection (which include most domestic flights) allow you to send and receive messages. To text on an Alaska Airlines flight, follow these steps:
- Enable airplane mode.
- Turn on your smartphone’s Wi-Fi.
- Connect to the “Alaska WiFi” network.
- Launch your web browser and go to alaskawifi.com.
- Choose the “Free texting” option and follow the prompts.
Alaska free messaging only works through iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. Make sure that you have at least one of these apps installed on your phone before you board the plane, and that the people you’ll be texting have the same app(s). Also be aware that you’ll only be able to send words and emojis; photos, videos, and SMS messages are not supported.
Delta Air Lines
Delta also offers free text messaging on all flights that have Wi-Fi. Similar to Alaska, free text messaging on Delta flights only works through iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp, and it does not support photos, videos, or SMS text messages.
After your phone is in airplane mode, turn on Wi-Fi and connect to “DeltaWiFi.” From there, you’ll automatically be redirected to Delta’s internet portal, where you can choose “Free messaging.” You can also access free text messaging by typing wifi.delta.com into your web browser.
Wi-Fi on Delta is free for SkyMiles members, while non-members who want to access the internet for purposes other than texting will need to pay a fee.
Southwest offers both free text messaging and free movies (though not full internet services) through its mobile app and the aircraft’s Wi-Fi. Simply download the Southwest mobile app before your flight, then once you’re on board, go to your settings, turn on airplane mode, and join the “SouthwestWiFi” network.
You can only send text messages from a Southwest flight through WhatsApp or iMessage, so be sure to install one of these apps on your phone before you board your flight. Free movies are available from the Southwest mobile app, while full access to the internet will cost $8.
Airlines that require you to pay for text messages and internet
Some airlines don’t like to give anything away for free. If you book a flight through one of these airlines, be prepared to pay for internet access before you can send and receive messages:
American Airlines does not offer free internet or texting, but they do have Wi-Fi access on most flights, which you can usually purchase for $10. If you’re a frequent traveler, you may want to consider a subscription plan for $49.95 a month, or $59.95 for a two-device plan.
The United Airlines website claims they offer free text messaging through various messaging apps, but this is misleading, as you only get access to this service after you’ve paid to connect to the plane’s in-flight Wi-Fi. The cost to join the network is $8 on a credit card (or 800 miles) for MileagePlus members and $10 for non-members. You can also pay for an internet subscription package starting at $49 per month, either in cash or by using your miles.
Notably, United does offer an exception to its Wi-Fi pricing policy for certain T-Mobile customers, who can text and stream for free. However, this depends on the cell phone plan you have, and you may only have limited or occasional access.
What airlines don’t offer internet usage or text messages?
There are a few airlines that don’t offer internet access or text messaging at all. One example is Frontier Airlines, which doesn’t offer any in-flight entertainment (pack accordingly!). According to the Frontier website, the lack of these services is to help maintain its low-cost airfares.
“Many airlines are moving toward advanced Wi-Fi services upon their planes, while others in the low-cost space are ditching the technology completely,” explains Michael Schottey, director of communications at the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA).
Can you make voice calls from your mobile phone on a plane?
Most U.S. airlines still do not allow you to make calls while you’re in the air, although you can still do so while the plane is grounded. Note that some foreign carriers may have different rules, so make sure you’re aware of these regulations ahead of your trip.
“While texting is common, making phone calls during flights is often not allowed, primarily due to passenger comfort. The confined space of an airplane cabin can make phone calls disruptive and irritating to fellow passengers,” says Fleischman.
Do you really need to put your phone on airplane mode during a flight?
Most airlines require passengers to switch their phones to airplane mode from right before takeoff until after landing. Having said that, short of the flight attendants checking everyone’s phone, no one will really know if you forget to enable airplane mode. No doubt many passengers have forgotten to switch to airplane mode in the past, and to date, there are no reports of plane crashes caused by cellular data usage.
- Technically, it is possible to text on a plane; however, because airplane mode disables cellular data, you will need access to the internet to send text messages, which may require paying for in-flight Wi-Fi.
- Even if you can access the internet on a flight, you currently cannot send or receive calls, make video calls, or send SMS messages while flying in the U.S.
- A few airlines, such as JetBlue, offer free internet and text messaging through certain texting apps, such as iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.
- Some airlines, including Delta, Alaska, and Southwest, offer free text messaging through a messaging app, but you’ll need to pay if you want to use the in-flight Wi-Fi for anything else.
- A few major airlines, such as American and United, only allow internet use (including for text messaging) if you pay to access the in-flight Wi-Fi.
Most U.S. flights offer Wi-Fi access, though you may need to pay to access the internet during your flight. If you travel frequently and want to earn some of that money back, consider applying for a travel credit card. You may even be able to use your miles to pay for Wi-Fi packages! Not sure where to start your search? Check out SuperMoney’s picks for the best travel credit cards to find the right one for your needs!
View Article Sources
- Use Of Cell Phones On Passenger Aircraft – Federal Aviation Administration
- FAQ: Increasing Consumer Access to In-Flight Mobile Wireless Services – Federal Communications Commission
- Advisory Circular – Federal Aviation Administration
- Fly-Fi: Fast, Free Wi-Fi – JetBlue
- Inflight Wi-Fi – Qantas
- WiFi and In-flight entertainment – Norwegian
- Onboard Wi-Fi – Delta Air Lines
- United Wi-Fi – United Airlines
- In-Flight – Frontier Airlines
- Entertainment Guide – Southwest Airlines
- Wi-Fi and connectivity – American Airlines
- Free texting – Alaska Airlines
- Is JetBlue Mosaic Elite Status Worth the Investment? A Comprehensive Review – SuperMoney
- Best Time To Visit Alaska: Weather and Prices Guide – SuperMoney
- What Is Delta Comfort Plus? Find All The Answers Before You Book – SuperMoney
- American Airlines Carry-on Size: Limits and Rules – SuperMoney
- Donating Airline Miles and Credit Card Rewards – SuperMoney