14 May 2012

Virgin Atlantic OKs Cellphones In-Flight ...Sometimes

Virgin Atlantic Airways is first British airline to allow in-flight mobile phones use.
Making her virgin mobile call on a Virgin Atlantic flight.
Bad news for people who enjoy quiet flights.

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airways will be the first UK carrier to allow personal cell phone use, in-flight. All passengers will be free to make or receive calls except at takeoff and landing, or when otherwise directed by the crew*. The plane's onboard network works throughout the cabin -- no restrictions.

Best (and perhaps most surprising) of all, there's no extra cost. Just sit down, buckle up, then start gabbing.

Easy peasy, right? Still, if only to show that you're a smart consumer, you might want to ask MobilePhonesFan if there's a catch...
Of course there is.

For starters, the plane's cell system connects to the ground via satellite network. But satellites are in space ('extranational'), so your phone must be set to allow international roaming**. Last we checked, this means your calls will be billed from just under £1 (~$1.50) per minute...and up.***

Oh, and Blackberry users who want email service must cough up an "extra charge" for BIS access.

Have we mentioned the service limits?

Virgin's Airbus A330 planes will offer calls first, but only when flying the London-to-New York route. Look for onboard service to expand -- 9 more routes and 13 aircraft, total, including 747s -- by year's end. Meanwhile, service is further limited to passengers with O2 or Vibraphone SIM cards.

Summary: two mobile carriers and maybe four planes, but only on certain routes.

To be fair, network provider AeroMobile has done yeoman work; no more 'radios in the cabin' bogeyman. Since a 'tower' connection (the plane) is close by, your phone connects quickly and holds signal at minimal power-output, saving your battery. More importantly, it reduces EMI.

With minimal EMI, the plane's avionics are unlikely to do something that everyone on board would surely regret.

Virgin Atlantic Airways new in-flight mobile phone system greatly reduces EMI, so there's no risk to the plane's control system.
Please raise and lock your seat-back tray, before panicking.

Anyway, we're happy to see Sir Richard urging his countrymen into the 21st century, not that they'll be going willingly.

*Like, say, when approaching the United States' 250-mile territorial limit. Ever since 9-11, we're funny about that sort of thing.

**To be clear, that's call roaming. Virgin (and we) suggest turning off your data roaming service, the cost of which will make a full day's international calling look a bargain.

***Cost varies by country and connection type (landline or mobile) at the other end.

Image credit (#1): Emirates Air
Image credit (#2): Airplane! (1980)

via: Pocket-lint

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