Whether you are about to go on your first flight or your hundredth flight, you may find yourself wondering about the rules regarding phone use in airplanes and why they exist in the first place.
This post is going to cover everything you need to know about using a phone in an airplane on your next flight, including whether or not you can text, whether or not you actually need to use airplane mode, and why the Federal Aviation Administration and European Commission created all of these different rules governing the use of wireless devices in the first place.
Can You Use Your Cell Phone on a Plane?
The short answer is yes, airline passengers absolutely can use their cell phones on an airplane. However, there are rules and restrictions that you need to follow! The FAA, or Federal Aviation Administration, created a list of rules governing the use of portable electronic devices on planes, and the FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, added its own two cents.
The result of the collaboration between these two government agencies was a comprehensive set of guidelines on the use of cell phones on all air travel in the United States, and the rules are pretty much identical all around the world. While you can use your cell phone during a flight, there are restrictions on what you can use it to do and when you can use it.
Airplane Mode restricts devices from connecting to a cellular network. It doesn’t restrict them from performing normal offline functions!
You can listen to downloaded music, play games, write notes, view pictures, and do any other activities on your mobile device as long as they do not require an internet connection. An internet or cellular connection is only required for in-flight calls, video calls, online games, streaming, and text messaging.
Do You Actually Need to Use Airplane Mode?
Airplane mode is a setting on all mobile devices that restricts access to the internet. Airplane mode was created so that passengers could safely use the offline features of their cell phones without disrupting the pilot’s communication systems and navigation systems.
Radio waves emitted by cell phones cause electromagnetic interference, and the primary concern is that this interference can be a safety issue when it throws the airplane’s electronic systems out of whack. This is why cellphone use on planes has been so scrutinized, and why the cabin crew is so adamant about all passengers using airplane mode.
After all, if you have ever flown and chosen not to put your phone into flight mode, you probably lived to tell the tale. The fact of the matter is that using your phone like normal when flying doesn’t create enough electronic interference to really mess with the pilot’s electronic equipment, and you won’t cause a commercial flight to crash just because you didn’t put your phone into airplane mode.
Using Airplane Mode Is Responsible
As a responsible person, though, I will tell you that airplane mode should always be used. While a few people breaking the rule and using their phones like normal will not cause a plane to crash, this may not be the case if the majority of people on a flight try to use their phones without airplane mode.
One cell phone doesn’t create enough radio signals to cause an issue, but 200 cell phones could! For these reasons, it is always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to the use of phones during an airline flight.
There is next to no reason to use your phone like normal on a flight. Once you get to cruising altitude, you won’t have cellular service anyway. Cellular phones are connected by cellular towers, and there are no cell towers 30,000 feet in the air. Without cellular data, typical cell phone use is impossible.
If you can’t send text messages, receive voice calls, or cruise the web at 30,000 feet anyway, there is no reason to disobey FAA regulations and keep your phone off of airplane mode. Be responsible, listen to the flight attendants, and put all of your personal electronic devices on airplane mode to ensure that the aircraft systems function at 100%.
Can You Use Bluetooth on a Plane?
As mentioned earlier, Airplane Mode only restricts your phone from connecting to the internet. It doesn’t restrict you from doing offline activities on your phone! The offline use of mobile phones is fully allowed, including watching downloaded movies and Netflix episodes and listening to downloaded music.
While that is great, most headphones these days require a Bluetooth connection to use, and it is pretty difficult to watch movies and listen to music without headphones! The good news is that you are absolutely allowed to connect your phone to Bluetooth devices while flying. Bluetooth headphones do not emit any wireless signals that interfere with the airplane’s navigation systems, and you can use them for the majority of a flight.
The only restriction is that you are not allowed to use headphones of any kind while the flight crew does its pre-flight safety instructions. After that, you can connect your personal devices via Bluetooth for the duration of the flight.
Is There Wifi on Airplanes?
Recent changes to FCC regulations in the U.S. and European Aviation Safety Agency regulations in the European Union now permit inflight wi-fi to be used on many domestic flights and international flights. These new rules permit wifi service that enables you and your fellow passengers to use your cell phones throughout almost the entire flight. While not every flight offers wifi, most major airlines have started to roll out wi-fi networks throughout their fleets.
This internet access is not always perfect, but it is a major upgrade over not having cell service. In-flight wi-fi enables voice communications, electronic games, the use of apps like Facebook Messenger, and the streaming of music and videos.
While you can’t make regular cell phone calls and send SMS texts over wifi, you can use FaceTime, iMessage, and messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger which are fully functional with just a wifi connection.
Popular airlines in the U.S. that have started to implement wifi networks include Delta, American Airlines, British Airways, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and JetBlue.
The cost, speed, and capability of wifi you have access to varies greatly depending on the airline, as some allow you to send messages for free while others make you pay and provide access to streaming. Some specific airlines provide wifi for free on long haul flights and not shorter routes, and others offer it for free to frequent flyers but not all passengers.
Is There Cell Service on an Airplane?
This shouldn’t matter, as your cell phone should be on Airplane Mode anyway. However, if you decide to break the rule and keep your phone off of Airplane Mode, you probably won’t get any service anyway. Cellular calls and SMS text messaging both require proximity to cell phone towers and ground networks, and these are all out of range once the airplane is in the sky.
If you are going to need to make a cellphone call at some point during your long flight, it’s a good idea to get a wifi-enabled app, like WhatsApp, that can make calls over wifi. This is safe, responsible, and much more practical than trying to get a cell signal way up in the sky, anyway.
Thanks for reading my post answering the question “can you use a cell phone on a plane. Hopefully, this post answered any questions you have about using cell phones while flying. If you have any questions or thoughts, drop a comment below.