Texting on our cell phones has become such a large part of our life that sometimes it is difficult to go even a few hours without it.
Luckily, in this day and age you can stay connected with friends and family and you don’t always have to give up text messaging when on a plane. But this really depends on whether you are relying on Wi-fi or cell phone data for your texts.
Below, I will go into detail about when you can text on a plane, how it works, and what you can expect.
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Can you text on a plane?
Yes, you can send text messages on some planes while in the air but there usually are limitations to what you can send and how you can send them. Keep reading below to find out more about these limitations and how you can possibly get around them!
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Why can’t you text on a plane?
A lot of people think that the FAA prohibits passengers from utilizing cellular data and texting on a plane. But that is actually not the case.
Instead, the government agency you would be looking to point the finger at is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Their regulation states:
Cellular telephones installed in or carried aboard airplanes, balloons or any other type of aircraft must not be operated while such aircraft are airborne (not touching the ground). When any aircraft leaves the ground, all cellular telephones on board that aircraft must be turned off.47 CFR § 22.925
Interestingly, when the aircraft is on the ground the use of cell phones is subject to FAA regulations.
So why is the FCC such a buzz kill for texting and calling people?
The FCC banned texting and uses of cellular devices to reduce the interference with towers on the ground. Apparently, operating phones (with hundreds of smart phone obsessed passengers) at certain altitudes can cause problems for the way these wireless signals work.
At the cruising altitude of ~35,000 feet this is probably not an issue. But whenever you are at lower altitudes of around 10,000 feet — when the cell phone towers can actually pick up on these signals — that could interfere with the towers.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a completely different reason for worrying about cell phone use. They don’t like in-flight use of wireless devices because of potential interference to the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems
The evidence is not so clear that use of personal electronic devices such as mobile phones has a negative effect on an aircraft’s navigation and communication systems.
You can certainly find instances where there seems to be a correlation between the use of electronic devices and the interference to aircraft systems. But a lot of those reports are from outdated aircraft or old systems and there is still debate about whether or not these systems are truly affected.
The risk is considered low by many largely due to shielding which is how flight navigation systems are protected inside an aircraft from electromagnetic interference.
Considering how many people forget or intentionally don’t care about putting their phones in airplane mode, some experts feel that if cell phone signals were truly a risk we would’ve already seen plenty of disasters.
Another consideration is the social resistance against using your phone on a plane.
If passengers were allowed to access cellular data, you would have to deal with annoying phone conversations which would drive people crazy because a lot of people don’t know how to turn down the decibels when on the phone.
If you thought people were bad about this in airport lounges just imagine how bad they would be in closer proximity….
Some folks are also worried about terrorists activating explosives via cell phone calls.
A ban on in-flight phone calls could potentially resolve some of these concerns and still allow passengers to send text messages over a cellular network. But you would always have those jackasses who still don’t listen or insist their call is “an emergency.”
Based on statements from the FCC it does seem like they have entertained changing the rules but there has been a fair level of resistance against it. I don’t really see the rules changing anytime soon.
How to text on a plane
As you are boarding the plane and waiting for other passengers to board, you are allowed to use your cell phone to text or call.
A lot of us have probably been on planes where someone is chatting up until the last second and the flight attendant has to come over and get them to hang up.
But if you follow the orders of flight attendants and the crew, your cell phone will be in airplane mode when you takeoff.
When your phone is in airplane mode you can still text message on some planes. The first thing you need to do is enable your Wi-Fi and connect to the planes Wi-Fi. Some airlines will allow you to connect to their Wi-Fi for free when accessing text messaging.
Once connected to the Wi-Fi, you will then have a series of steps dictated by the airline to follow in order to activate texting.
For example, here are the steps for texting provided by Alaska Airlines:
- Turn on your smartphone’s Wi-Fi.
- Connect to the “gogoinflight”, or “Alaska_WiFi” network.
- Launch your web browser.
- Go to AlaskaWiFi.com
- Choose the “free texting” option.
Once you are connected you will be able to send certain types of text messages that are Wi-Fi friendly. These include messages like the following:
- Facebook Messager
So if you have an Apple device you’ll find it convenient to text message other Apple users with iPhones or iPads. But if you’re using Android, you may have to stick with messaging apps like WhatsApp.
If you want to send Short Messaging Service (SMS) messages, that likely will not work when connected to the aircraft’s Wi-Fi since they rely on cell phone networks.
Also, if you were trying to send out photos or videos there’s a good chance that those will not go through as well. Sometimes, if a lot of people are using the Wi-Fi it could take a little while for your text messages to go through, so you might have to be a little patient.
Social media apps
A lot of people want to use social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok while flying on a plane.
If you are able to connect to the airplane’s Wi-Fi (free or paid) there is a chance that you can use these apps but there may be restrictions to that access.
For example, American Airlines in 2021 allowed passengers to access 30 minutes of TikTok but only on Viasat-equipped narrowbody aircraft.
However, you should be aware that some apps that consume a lot of data with video streaming like Snapchat may be blocked or at least have their features which do consume a lot of data unusable.
Plane texting FAQ
Yes, you can text in airplane mode but you will need to connect to the aircraft’s Wi-Fi (assuming that it is available). Some airlines like Delta will allow you to do this free of charge.
No, you generally cannot text on a plane with data due to FCC regulations.
If you receive a text message while your phone is in airplane mode you will not receive the text until you take your phone out of airplane mode.
If you have a strong enough connection to the airplane’s Wi-Fi, you can use Snapchat on a plane. However, some airlines ban apps that consume a lot of bandwith such as Snapchat.
47 CFR § 22.925 states that: “The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is airborne is prohibited by FCC rules, and the violation of this rule could result in suspension of service and/or a fine.”
Texting on an airplane is definitely possible but it does not work the same way as on the ground. Due to FCC and FAA regulations you will be more limited in what you can send out but if an aircraft offers Wi-Fi you may be able to send out certain types of messages, perhaps even for free!
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.