You can bring your cell phone on a plane and you can use it too but the cellular connection must be disabled.
This means enabling airplane mode.
Turning on airplane mode does a few things simultaneously.
- Turns off the cellular connection. This is a legal requirement.
- Turns off Bluetooth
- Turns off WiFi
With airplane mode enabled you can’t make phone calls and you can’t use the cell data.
So how does this impact your ability to text when flying?
Let’s look into it.
Texting On A Plane With LTE Cellular Data
Sending an SMS (Short Message Service) text requires the cellular connection that is disabled when your device has airplane mode enabled.
This means that you can’t send SMS texts while flying.
You can however use re-enable bluetooth which is great for using wireless headphones on your flight. And you can also re-enable wifi on your phone when flying.
In a way your cell phone is functioning like a mini tablet. It’s no different to someone using an iPad, tablet, or laptop.
That means there is another potential way to send a text message.
Instant Messaging Using Wi-Fi
If the plane provides Wi-Fi you can send instant messages using popular messaging apps like these:
- Facebook Messenger
Often the Wi-Fi network doesn’t get switched on until the plane has gone above 10,000 feet. It’s safer if passengers are not distracted during take-off and landing in case there is an emergency.
Even though you can use instant messaging apps to send text messages you are not allowed to make voice phone calls. This is mainly to avoid disturbing other passengers.
You might not want to pay for in-flight WiFi just to send a text message when flying.
Alaska, Delta, and Southwest allow you to connect their wi-fi for free only for sending text messages through instant messaging apps like Whatsapp or Messenger. You won’t be able to send photos or videos but simple text messages should get through.
Also if you are a T-Mobile customer you can get free texting on any airline that uses Gogo as its internet provider. So T-Mobile customers also get free texting on United Airlines and some American Airlines flights.
And some airlines like JetBlue include free internet access for all passengers. Without some form of WiFi, you won’t be able to send text messages when flying since you are not permitted to turn on cellular data.
If you are worried about your phone running out of juice then it’s best to bring a portable charger with you. Don’t assume that your flight will have a cell phone charger port.
The Bottom Line
When the door to the airplane closes your phone should be put into airplane mode. Airplane mode should remain on until you touch down at your destination.
You can re-enable Bluetooth to use headphones during the flight. And you can turn on wifi to connect to the plane wifi you can’t turn on the cellular connection.
This means that you can’t send SMS text messages.
If you are able to connect to the in-flight wi-fi you’ll be able to send messages using instant messaging apps like Whatsapp or Messenger.
My top tip though is to pre-download a movie. Skip the WiFi, and enjoy the glorious silence and escape from messages and alerts. The airplane cabin is one of the few places remaining where you have a good excuse to unplug from the internet. Enjoy it while it lasts.