Passengers have a new way to pass the time while flying.

Alaska Airlines announced free inflight access to three popular messaging apps. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Apple’s iMessage will now work on GoGo WiFi-equipped planes without charge, the airline said.

“As a frequent traveler, it’s a nice perk to be able to stay connected with people either on the plane, or on the ground,” says retail technology executive Eric Belzer. “It will be very handy for people coordinating travel during unexpected changes.”The new free service is only available when accessing with a smartphone.In addition to complimentary chat, Alaska Airlines is rolling out previously-announced premium economy service, and additional meal options.

The carrier finalized a merger with Virgin America to become the nation’s fifth-largest last month.

Alaska Airlines is offering customers complimentary access to Gogo in-flight entertainment movies and TV shows through March. Movies are accessed on smartphones, tablets, laptops and other customers devices bring onboard.

In addition to movies either streamed to passenger devices or through seatback screens, most US airlines offer some form of inflight connectivity. WiFi access for email, social media, and browsing websites is available for a charge, usually starting around $10 per flight.

Due to the limited bandwidth available to each aircraft, popular streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu are not typically supported.

To access chat apps without paying for standard Internet access, passengers must first connect to Gogo and select the free option. The service is in beta now and expected to be fully operational January 24.

Alaska Airlines' new free chat option requires passengers sign in to GoGo before using iMessage, Facebook or WhatsApp for free during a flight.

Follow KING 5 Technology Reporter Brian M. Westbrook on Twitter: @BrianWestbrook.