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How to Send and Receive Text Messages on a Flight

Jan. 11, 2019
Travel, Vacations & Trip Planning
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Southwest Airlines passengers can now send and receive text messages in flight for free, adding the low-cost carrier to a growing list of airlines offering this perk. But even if you’re flying an airline that doesn’t offer free text messaging, you may still be able to text — for a price.

In either case, you need a messaging app like WhatsApp or Apple iMessage, because SMS messaging won’t work. If you’re using WhatsApp, it must be downloaded to your device before you take to the skies. Then you can use your airline’s connectivity options to send and receive texts. If you’re using iMessage, it’s probably already loaded on your iPhone. But take note: The text bubble should be blue, indicating you’re using the messaging app. If it’s green, your phone is trying to connect through SMS, which doesn’t work in-flight.

Your options for texting on 10 major airlines

  1. Southwest: The airline announced free in-flight text messaging in late 2018. It’s accessible through either iMessage or WhatsApp. If you want complete Wi-Fi service, it costs $8 per day per device.
  2. Delta Air Lines: Free. To send texts on a Delta flight, connect to in-flight Wi-Fi and select the Free Messaging pass.
  3. Alaska Airlines: Free. Passengers on Alaska can text for free via WhatsApp, iMessage and Facebook messenger. Have one of these apps loaded on your phone then, when onboard, connect your device via the Wi-Fi service, which could be Gogo, virginamerica or Alaska_wifi. Open your web browser, go to AlaskaWiFi.com, and choose “free texting.”
  4. JetBlue: Free Wi-Fi on all flights meaning you can enjoy free texting when you have a texting app installed on your device.
  5. American Airlines: To send texts on an American Airlines flight, you’ll have to purchase Wi-Fi. Not all American aircraft offer Wi-Fi for purchase. To find out if your flight does, look for the Wi-Fi symbol next to the flight number in your fare search or through the flight-status feature. Prices start at $10.
  6. British Airways: Free texting is not available, so you’ll have to go the Wi-Fi route. The airline says that 90% of flights on the carrier should have Wi-Fi by the beginning of the year, with plans starting around five euros.
  7. Frontier Airlines: This ultra-low-cost carrier keeps fares down by scrimping on the frills. There’s no free texting and no Wi-Fi — and no movies or TV, for that matter. Come prepared to entertain yourself in the air.
  8. Spirit Airlines: When it comes to online connectivity, Spirit’s a little behind the curve. By summer 2019, all their aircraft will have Wi-Fi and, when they do, it’s expected to cost around $6.50. No free text plans are in the works, so if you’re on a connected Spirit flight, you’ll use a Wi-Fi enabled messaging app to text after you’ve purchased a plan.
  9. Hawaiian Airlines: There’s no free texting aboard Hawaiian flights and there’s no Wi-Fi either. In-flight entertainment is accessed through the Hawaiian Airlines Entertainment app that you can download before boarding.
  10. United: You won’t find free texting onboard, but United’s Wi-Fi plans offer a lot of options to connect at different price ranges, including time-based plans starting at 30 minutes. Not all flights have Wi-Fi and prices vary by plan. You can even use MileagePlus miles to pay for Wi-Fi packages.

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