Virgin Atlantic To Allow Some In-Air Mobile Phone Calls

If you are fan of the relatively chatter-free ambiance of the airplane cabin, this will probably not come as good news. On the other hand, if you’re someone who finds the whole “no cell phone calls from the plane” thing tiresome, this may brighten your day a bit.

Virgin Atlantic became the latest passenger airline to allow in-flight cellphone calls, after it announced that passengers on some flights from London to New York will have the option of using their wireless devices while up in the air.

But there are so many restrictions on cost, carrier and number of passengers that you need not fear having to spend your flight listening to one half of an endless phone call about what jerks the guys in the London office are and how people in the UK drive on the wrong side of the road.

First, the service will only be available on Virgin’s A330 Airbus planes, though the airline will begin retrofitting its Boeing 747s too.

Second, only people with service from O2 or Vodafone will have access to the wireless service. So your AT&T device won’t be of use.

Then there’s the cost. At $1.20/minute, you’d better have something important to say to the person on the other end of the phone.

Finally, only six passengers at a time can access the service, so even if they opened it up to all major carriers and brought down the price, you still won’t have an entire plane calling home to mom.

“The service is intended for use in exceptional situations, when passengers need to send an SMS, make a quick call, or access an e-mail on a BlackBerry,” the company said in a statement.

Virgin Atlantic launches in-flight cell use [Cnet]


Edit Your Comment

  1. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    The white noise level on a plane is rather high. You won’t hear people making phone calls unless they are right next to you.

    • suez says:

      Has it occured to you that this same white noice will force them to talk louder?

      • Michael Belisle says:

        Is an airplane like a library or something? What if someone’s talking to a person in the next seat? How is that any different?

        • pamelad says:

          It’s really different! Haven’t you noticed how loudly people talk on their cellphones while in a quieter place such as a nice restaurant or a decent grocery store? Add the other (usually) polite conversations between passengers sitting next to each other, or between passengers and attendants to airplane “white noise,” and no thanks, Virgin Atlantic. I don’t want to get stuck sitting next to the cellphone yapper on the airplane yelling over the “white noise.” This unsettling prospect would be enough to make me avoid Virgin Atlantic.

  2. scoutermac says:

    Most likely your AT&T and Verizon phone will work just fine. Unless they have installed jammers on the plane. There is no reason it should cost you extra to use your own cell phone on an airplane.

    • aerodawg says:

      No reason at all except for the fact you’re bouncing through their satcom link because you’re over the Atlantic with nary a cell tower in sight….

      “passengers on some flights from London to New York”

    • tkmluv says:

      They will be using repeaters on the plane so they can control it that way. It would be very hard to get a connection to a land based tower.

    • DonnieZ says:

      AT&T Possibly, Verizon LTE devices, maybe, Verizon CDMA devices probably not as it’s a completely different technology. The first issue is that European phones operate on different bands than US phones, however a lot of GSM/UMTS phones are quad/pentaband nowadays.

      However, It’s easy to block this by software on the repeater by restricting SIMs or MNCs.

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    Alec Baldwin approved this message.

  4. j2.718ff says:

    $1.20 / minute? send an SMS? I can send a lot of text messages in a minute… that actually sounds like a great deal compared to some carries!

  5. eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

    I really don’t think that cost is much of a limiting factor. London to NYC flights, depending on day of the week, would be dominated by management-level types. And there are plenty of companies that would reimburse $1.20 a minute (that works out to $72 an hour – that’s about a third what a consultant bills for most firms.)

  6. j2.718ff says:

    How much did it used to cost to use those cell phones that were embedded into the seat in front of you? I’ve *never* seen anyone use one of those.

    • who? says:

      The last time I used one, in about 1998, it was 6 bucks a minute. Totally worth it for the 2 minute emergency call I needed to make. Anything longer than that, though, forget it. I think back then, only two people could use the air phones at a time. If a third person picked up the phone, they’d have to wait.

      The day I needed it for the 2 minute call, there was another guy on the phone discussing redlines for some contract he had for over an hour. I don’t know if he didn’t know how much it was going to cost, or just didn’t care.

  7. suez says:

    Worst. Idea. Ever.

    If you think the current number of physical confrontations causing delays and emergency landings, etc., is bad now, just wait until those with their cell phones surgically attached to their heads start fighting with those who want them to SHUT THE F UP!

  8. redskull says:

    Note to self: Avoid Virgin Atlantic.

  9. jp7570-1 says:

    Years ago, several airlines installed the SkyPhone service in their planes. But it was so ridiculously expensive that few people actually used it, except for very short calls.

    Hopefully, this new “amenity” won’t be a pain in the neck for those passengers seated next to callers. I, for one, would not fly Virgin if this was offered on my flights.

  10. AllanG54 says:

    Since the Verizon network is 40% owned by Vodafone I wonder if those phones will work as well. And luckily I don’t fly Virgin so I won’t have to deal with this. If I had to, I could get Wi-Fi on my Delta flights and send emails. But, I can live without my phone for more than 10 minutes so it’s not a problem for me.

  11. Southern says:

    Second, only people with service from O2 or Vodafone will have access to the wireless service. So your AT&T device won’t be of use.

    Don’t these type of flights have some type of Wi-Fi service? If so there are plenty of ways to make calls over VOIP and send/receive Text Messages online without going through a wireless carrier.

    I know Virgin Atlantic specifically was talking about adding WiFi to their Airbus 330’s last year (although I haven’t read anything on cost)..

  12. 180CS says:

    Um, does anyone else here think that flying Delta/United/Etc with the option of $10 for in flight wifi makes more sense? Anyone ever heard of skype/google voice?

  13. Bor&Mitch says:

    Would love to know how they’re going to manage a 6 person queue. Six people in business class with back to back meetings who can expense the cost will pretty much restrict access for everyone else.