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Virgin Atlantic lets 10 lucky passengers make mid-flight mobile calls

I'm on the plane
Tue May 15 2012, 17:07
Virgin Atlantic

TRANSATLANTIC TRAVELERS who can't bear to be parted from their mobiles should be cheered by the news that Virgin Atlantic is going to allow in-flight mobile calling on its latest planes.

So that's great news for those flyers who are so important that they have to be contactable at absolutely all times, or just so addicted to Draw Something. It's bad news for those of us stuck listening to a very loud one-sided phone chat as we're trying to sleep.

The service is the first time a British airline has enabled in-flight mobile calls. Customers flying the 3,500 mile London to New York route will also be able to send or receive SMS texts and emails, and browse the web via GPRS. The mobile service is available in all cabins, and is targeted at business travelers.

According to Aeromobile, which provides the technology, Virgin Atlantic has installed a picocell in the aircraft cabin to act as a base station. This means Virgin Atlantic gets around the interference issues traditionally associated with using a mobile on a plane, as the devices search for a network to use.

British Airways (BA) lets passengers on its London to JFK route send texts or browse the internet on their mobiles, however a BA spokesman said the airline does not have plans to extend this to mobile calling.

There is a slight catch to the Virgin Atlantic service, though, in that the service will be available only to O2 and Vodafone customers, and it will be restricted to 10 people at a time.

Virgin Atlantic said that due to limited bandwidth only a small number of lines are available at any one time, limiting the service to only 10 of the 300-plus passengers at a time. We're not sure how the lucky 10 are chosen, perhaps you have to enter a raffle or only get five minutes each, or more likely it's on a priority basis working from the front of the plane backwards.

Aside from the route, volume and operator limits, there are other restrictions on the service. Mobile use is not permitted during take-off or landing, and US laws mean that devices have to be turned off around 250 miles from US airspace.

Charging for calls, texts and browsing will be based on international roaming fees through O2 or Vodafone. The INQUIRER has contacted both operators to find out whether the charges will be based on standard roaming rates and how the billing will be decided, but we have not heard back at the time of publication.

Aeromobile said it is in ongoing discussions with other UK operators about signing up to its service, so customers of other mobile networks will just have to sit tight and enjoy the onboard entertainment system, inedible food, and eavesdropping on other people's mobile phone conversations aloft for now. µ


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