Not so many years ago people just accepted that when they were flying they were shut off from the rest of the world and couldn’t communicate with anyone. But these days people want to be online 24/7, sadly.
Personally, I am more than happy to enjoy some relative peace and quiet on a plane to just read a book (that is like an old fashion Kindle but on paper) or watch a movie on the inflight entertainment system. The rest of the world can survive without getting in touch with me every 5 minutes.
So, will you be able to send your wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfriend, friend, colleague or whoever a text when you are on a plane? Let’s dive in …
Can you send a text message on a plane?
As most people know, it is a requirement, by law, to have your phone either powered off or set in Airplane or Flight Mode when taxiing, during take-off, landing and also while in the air. If you forget, the flight attendants are certain to remind you.
When a phone is switched to Airplane Mode it no longer has access to a cellular network.
Having no cellular connection means passengers cannot send text messages, make phone calls or have access to the cellular data through your internet provider.
Having said that, a few airlines are now installing an SMS system on their aircraft which allows you to send and receive your SMS text messages. For example, Qatar Airways has installed OnAir’s GSM network on some of its aircraft which allows this.
Can you use your phone on a plane?
Although cellphones/smartphones must have Airplane Mode switched on, you can still use mobile phones to play games, listen to music, take a selfie or any other apps you use that do not require you to stay connected to the internet.
If the aircraft has in-flight wi-fi, you can use that internet access to use many other apps.
Can you text on a plane with WIFI?
A few years ago it would have been impossible to access the internet while flying so you would be unable to use any messaging app. But fortunately having an inflight wi-fi network is becoming more common now.
With wi-fi enabled flights you can connect to an airplane’s wi-fi and have internet access. On some flights you may have only limited free internet access so you will probably have to pay extra to access it although business travelers in business class will probably have free access.
With wi-fi access to the internet, although you will not be able to send or receive SMS text messages, or make phone calls, you will be able to use text messaging apps such as Whatsapp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger etc and certain apps with similar functionality.
Even if you have access to the aircraft’s wi-fi, in most cases, you will not be able to make voice or video calls or even send photos as these require a faster connection than most aircraft currently provide.
Gogo Internet Inflight
If you are on a flight that offers a Gogo wi-fi connection then I believe T-mobile customers can access it for free or at least get free texting.
According to the gogo website Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin America Airlines all offer it on most domestic flights. On international flights, it is available on Aeromexico, Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Japan Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and British Airways.
Is airplane mode necessary?
Airplane mode is necessary if you don’t want a big fine. It is the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) that regulates the use of cell phones in the air, which the FAA endorses.
There are two reasons why you are not allowed to send SMS texts or make cell phone calls on a plane, or even have the cellphone capabilities of your phone or other electronic devices switched on in flight.
- It is believed that the use of a cell phone in flight may interfere with the aircraft systems and cause them to malfunction. Obviously, in theory at least, this could have catastrophic consequences for flight safety.
- The cellphone system operates using transmitters/receivers located at regular intervals which produce a “cell” – hence the name.
- If you are stationary then you are connected to the nearest cell.
- If you are traveling in a car, and move from one cell to another, then the phone automatically transfers to the next cell. Cells are reasonably large so this means that, as you are unlikely to be traveling faster than 60-70 miles per hour, you will only move to a different cell perhaps every few minutes or so.
- If you are flying at 600mph or more then your phone will be attempting to change cells every few seconds. This could not only confuse your phone but also could lead to disruption of the cell phone system.
Should voice calls be allowed on a plane?
Personally I am quite happy that you can’t use your cell phone on a plane to make calls and, frankly, I hope that never changes.
Can you imagine being on a 12-hour flight and sitting near other passengers who are constantly making and receiving calls on their phones? I have experienced this really annoying activity on trains many times and let me tell you, there are times when I have wanted to snatch the person’s phone and throw it out of the window, or put it somewhere!
How to use the aircraft’s wi-fi in airplane mode
Many people seem to think that once you hit the airplane mode button then all communication with the outside world is now switched off.
While that is true when you first switch to airplane mode that doesn’t mean that you cannot switch some of the communication settings back on and for it to still be in airplane mode.
The main reason we have to switch on airplane mode before take-off is to switch off the cellphone capabilities of the phone which, they say, can interfere with the aircraft’s systems as they are actually radio signals.
Airplane mode turns off all communications when in this mode, primarily because until recently wi-fi wasn’t available on aircraft and so there was no reason for it to be on.
This isn’t the case with Bluetooth which you have been able to use with compatible headphones/earbuds etc for some time. However, you will have to enable Bluetooth as it also gets switched off when entering airplane mode.
Read my other post to find out more about using devices with Bluetooth headphones on a plane.
How to switch wifi on in airplane mode
How to do this may vary from phone to phone but the principle will be the same on all phones. The following are examples on a Huawei Android phone and an iPhone.
- Step 1 – This is the normal quick settings menu, which I access by swiping down from the top of my home screen (twice to open it fully) on my Android cellphone. As you can see wifi (the first icon) is on and Airplane Mode is switched off.
- Step 2 – Turn on Airplane mode by selecting it and you can see that not only have the cellphone functions been switched off but also so has wi-fi been too.
- Step 3 – By clicking on the wi-fi icon it is now switched back on but the phone remains in Airplane Mode. The phone can now be used to access the onboard wi-fi.
What happens when someone texts you on airplane mode?
Assuming you have no wi-fi on board so you cannot use an SMS text messaging app, if you will not receive text messages while you are in Aircraft Mode. These text messages will just sit in a queue waiting for you to come back onto a mobile phone network. After you land and switch off Airplane Mode, you will then receive text messages that have been sent to you.
What happens when someone calls you on Airplane mode?
If someone tries to call you while your phone is switched to Airplane Mode they will just get a message stating that you are unavailable at that time. They will normally be able to leave you a voice message.
Will I get roaming charges if my phone is on Airplane mode?
Since your phone will be unable to connect to a cellular connection while it is in Airplane Mode so you cannot send messages you will not get any roaming charges.
Can you use mobile data on a plane?
When you are on a plane you must have Airplane Mode switched on and active on your phone. This means that you cannot access your mobile data.
I have been traveling around the world by air since the early 70s and living overseas too. I worked for British Airways for a number of years and I am also a private pilot. About Me