GPS Reception Aboard a Commercial Airplane

 

I like to know where I am when I fly. During the last eight commercial airplane flights I've taken over the last 18 months, I have not been able to maintain GPS reception on any of my Garmin devices. This is also the case with my iPad Mini and iPhone XS.

In the past, I used an external antenna held near a window which worked fairly well. This however is no longer permitted on most flights. Most airlines allow GPS use as long as there is no external wiring connected to the device.

Has anyone found tricks or workarounds for this issue or a device that works aboard a plane?

hmmm

Possibly interferene from the airplane skin, no skin in the way using antenna against window. Poor satelite lock at 500 mph?

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I never get lost, but I do explore new territory every now and then.

For

bdhsfz6 wrote:

Has anyone found tricks or workarounds for this issue or a device that works aboard a plane?

For the last number of years I've used the GPS service built into the airplanes entertainment system. Can't remember the last time I turned on my personal GPS while flying in a commercial airplane.

I normally fly American, United, Westjet, and Air Canada. All have a GPS locator facility as part of the entertainment system.

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Nuvi 350, 760, 1695LM, 3790LMT, 2460LMT, 3597LMTHD, DriveLuxe 50LMTHD, DriveSmart 61, Garmin Backup Camera 40 and TomTom XXL540s.

Window

Window seat and hold the GPS near the window. This works for me with a GPSMAP 64s and iPhone.

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GPSMAP64s, iPhone XR w/Garmin North America, Yaesu VX-8R w/GPS.

Same here

diesel wrote:

Window seat and hold the GPS near the window. This works for me with a GPSMAP 64s and iPhone.

That's the only way it would work for me.

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Metricman Nuvi 660, GTM-20 Traffic Receiver Nuvi 3597 GTM-60 Traffic Receiver Williamsburg, VA

I once tried 660 on a

I once tried 660 on a plane at window seat..... It did not lock.
It did in the rental car afterward.

--
A 2689LMT in both our cars that we love... and a Nuvi 660 with Lifetime Maps that we have had literally forever.... And a 2011 Ford Escape with Nav System that is totally ignored!

Shielding

The aircraft structure is metal, a fantastic shield that keeps radio signals away from any internal antennas. This is why vehicles have their antennas located outside of the fuselage or where there is no shielding metal.

Even at a window, the GPS will have access to very few satellites.

It's fun seeing 525 MPH on the GPS.

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GPSMAP64s, iPhone XR w/Garmin North America, Yaesu VX-8R w/GPS.

A Handy Feature

t923347 wrote:
bdhsfz6 wrote:

Has anyone found tricks or workarounds for this issue or a device that works aboard a plane?

For the last number of years I've used the GPS service built into the airplanes entertainment system. Can't remember the last time I turned on my personal GPS while flying in a commercial airplane.

I normally fly American, United, Westjet, and Air Canada. All have a GPS locator facility as part of the entertainment system.

Unfortunately, only one of my last eight flights had this feature. It depends on make, model & age of a particular aircraft.

Yes

diesel wrote:

The aircraft structure is metal, a fantastic shield that keeps radio signals away from any internal antennas. This is why vehicles have their antennas located outside of the fuselage or where there is no shielding metal.

Even at a window, the GPS will have access to very few satellites.

It's fun seeing 525 MPH on the GPS.

Yes, an aircraft fuselage is in effect a "Faraday" cage which shields most electromagnetic radiation. This shielding has been increased in recent years to protect flight crews from cumulative radiation exposure.

Up until about ten years ago, my old GPS V would get a satellite fix fairly easily aboard a plane. That is no longer true with the increased shielding used on newer planes.

usually a window

Not all airlines allow passenger GPS use, and in any case the flight crew can stop you if they choose. So comply if given direction.

That said, I have employed GPS in airliners on hundreds of flights for decades. As people here have said, a big issue is that the GPS can see very few satellites directly through the windows. The signal it gets indirectly after it has bounced a time or two after passing through the window is weak.

Another issue is that many GPS units speed their acquisition time by assuming that the location is pretty close to the most recent one logged. If you have traveled more than a few hundred miles since last fix, have unusually large Doppler shift from a 500 mile-per-hour ground speed, and have very few satellites with strong signal strength, the unit may never pick up a fix in the first place.

So here are my tricks:

1. Be sure to take a fix on the ground as little before the flight as you can manage, preferably under two hours.
2. Try to get a window seat.
3. Try to get a first fix immediately after the aircraft passes above 10,000 feet and use of small devices is allowed.
4. When starting up hold the GPS directly up against the window.
5. Be prepared for the first fix to take unusually long.
6. As my battery life is short, I commonly turn off the GPS as soon as it has a fix and perhaps I have reviewed the GPS map against the view out the window.
7. To assure fast lock-in times both in the airplane and at my destination, I routinely start up the GPS and get a new fix once every half-hour in-flight.

Depending on the position of the satellites and the structure of the airplane, sometimes I can get a stable continuing lock after the initial fix with the unit sitting on the tray table in front of me, but sometimes not. Watching the satellite signal strength page as you move the unit from the window down to the tray table is very instructive.

Now if you have a long battery-life hiking model, and conditions are favorable, you may be able to get a track log for many hours of flight. I have one for the great majority of a flight from London Heathrow to Peking, logged while spending many hours over the far north of Russia in 2005.

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personal GPS user since 1992

GPS reception on a plane

I use a window seat and place the phone on the window. I have always been able to obtain a fix.

Using an iPhone

There is a FREE app available in the App Store called "Flight tracker" which will show where you are as well as speed traveled.

Don't know if its available for Android.

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Nuvi 350 long gone, Nuvi 855LMT, Nuvi 2797LMT, DriveSmart 50 LMT-HD, 3790LMT now my daughters. Using Windows 10. DashCam A108C with GPS.

Garmin 76S

I have used my venerable 76S on flights and got a signal OK, just get a window seat and hold it up to the window. Not to sure how automotive ones will work, I think they are busy trying to find a highway

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Nuvi2797LMT (2) Nuvi260,Ford Sync3 Navigation. Captain Cook was a Yorkshire man too.

I place my Nuvi 760 on the

I place my Nuvi 760 on the window and it locks on to satellites somewhere over Asia. It takes a few minutes to get satellites lock because I'm thousand of miles away from last position.

I'm confused, what is the need?

This is strictly academic right? There isn't really a reason for this but to see a cute little icon moving hundreds of miles across the GPS screen, right? I feel like seeing someone putting a dry ice cube in a bottle and watch what happens next.

passengers get bored.but,

passengers get bored.

but, yes, it just something to do....

On the other hand, maybe they don't trust the navigator.

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I never get lost, but I do explore new territory every now and then.

not for me

donnyy123 wrote:

This is strictly academic right?

My reason for getting a fresh lock every half hour is to help speed my ability to use my GPS in a car on arrival. But apart from that, sometimes I wish to know what something is I see out my window, and so on.

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personal GPS user since 1992

Well

donnyy123 wrote:

This is strictly academic right? There isn't really a reason for this but to see a cute little icon moving hundreds of miles across the GPS screen, right?

I for one like to know which city.. is over there.. or which lake I am flying over. The on board info is interesting.. if your plane has it, but limited in the detail.

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Lives in Edmonton AB A volunteer driver for Drive Happiness.ca and uses a 2689 to find my way.

Things on the ground

I have generally used it to identify things on the ground. My Nuvi 255 worked well from a window seat.

Flight tracker

is good enough for me since it is on my iPhone which I have with me anyway. All my travel by air is with an escorted tour wherever I travel to so I have no need for my Garmin on the ground.

Especially with the weight restrictions unless you can afford to fly business or first class.

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Nuvi 350 long gone, Nuvi 855LMT, Nuvi 2797LMT, DriveSmart 50 LMT-HD, 3790LMT now my daughters. Using Windows 10. DashCam A108C with GPS.

.

Melaqueman wrote:

Especially with the weight restrictions unless you can afford to fly business or first class.

What? Portable GPS is too heavy? I hope I won't have to fly business or 1st class so I can bring a PND.

Every bit

chewbacca wrote:
Melaqueman wrote:

What? Portable GPS is too heavy? I hope I won't have to fly business or 1st class so I can bring a PND.

Adds more to the weight and bulk!
One bit of chicken poop is not a lot, but a barn full creates a lot !

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Nuvi 350 long gone, Nuvi 855LMT, Nuvi 2797LMT, DriveSmart 50 LMT-HD, 3790LMT now my daughters. Using Windows 10. DashCam A108C with GPS.