Virgin Atlantic says it will be the first British airline to allow passengers to make and receive phone calls in flight when its new technology launches.
The airline says it will introduce the service in response to demand from customers who will soon be able to send and receive texts, emails and get GPRS web access while in the air. The service, provided by AeroMobile, will be available on Virgin’s Airbus A330s from London to New York and the airline says it could be available on 20 planes by the end of the year.
Passengers won’t be able to make calls when approaching US airspace, however, because the US Federal Communications Commission bans the use of mobiles onboard. Only six people will be allowed to talk at once, and phones will still have to be turned off for take-off and landing.
Virgin is the first British-owned airline to introduce the service; in 2008, Dubai’s Emirates Airlines pioneered high flying phone calls when it introduced its in-flight call service.
Virgin plans to make the technology available in all cabins although the service is primarily aimed at business travellers. It is currently offered to customers with 02 or Vodafone networks and they’ll be billed at international roaming charges rates.
Analysts say that in-flight calls and wi-fi are the future, and they believe that soon the technology will be available on a lot more flights.
Virgin Atlantic’s director of corporate communications Greg Dawson said, "We have listened to what customers want and connectivity in the air is always on the wish list.
"Many people will have experienced that moment when you’re about to take off on a 10-hour flight and you need to send an important message to the office, or even reminding a family member to feed the cat!
"It’s also quite fun to call home and say "Guess where I am?" – not many people will think you’re travelling at 35,000ft above the Atlantic Ocean."
The service will be available on Virgin’s new A330 aircraft which fly the London to New York route and will also be introduced on the airline’s B747s which are being refurbished to the tune of £50 million.
Surprisingly, internet access on planes isn’t new; it was introduced over a decade ago but has still to “take off” although it looks set to become the norm this time around as technologies are introduced. The advantages for business passengers in particular could be huge, allowing them to send and receive important emails and even have SKYPE calls onboard.