New York - The phrase "Can you hear me now" has entered the jet age.
on certain Virgin Atlantic flights are now able to use their cellphones
to make and receive phone calls at 10 600m, the airline announced.
British airline's new service could be a blessing for business
travellers who want to stay connected during eight-hour flights across
the ocean. It could also be a nightmare for the passenger sitting next
"I suspect most passengers, like myself, would prefer
not to listen to somebody on the phone for what might be hours," said
airline analyst Robert Mann.
Only six passengers at a time will
be able to use the system, which the airline says is intended "for use
in exceptional situations". Passengers will be able to send text
messages, make a call or access e-mail on mobile devices. An airline
spokesperson could not say how much a call would cost.
the service - which utilises a satellite connection - will only be
available for customers of European cellphone providers O2 and Vodafone
and US carrier T-Mobile.
The service debuted on Tuesday on the
airline's new Airbus A330-300 planes flying between New York and London.
It will expand to nearly 20 planes by year-end, from a handful now.
Emirates became the first carrier to allow passengers to use their
personal cellphones back in 2008. A handful of other airlines in the
Middle East including Oman Air and Royal Jordanian now have similar
Passengers today already wrestle for control of the
armrest and the few precious centimetres of personal space they have. It
isn't clear how the flying public will react to phone calls mid-flight.
Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog, said Virgin will have to restrict
times of day when passengers can make calls in order to not wake up
fellow passengers on overnight flights.
"But you know what will
happen, no one will listen. There will be screaming matches, glares, and
probably fisticuffs," he said in a statement. "I for one would gladly
choose an airline that bans in-flight yakking over one that allows it."
The New York-London route is very lucrative and competitive.
Airways and American Airlines have teamed up to offer up to 16 daily
flights between the two cities. Virgin only offers five a day, with
plans to soon expand to six.
Asked how his airline can compete, CEO Steve Ridgway said last week: "By offering better service."
new phone service is part of a larger $160m upgrade of the airline's
Upper Class cabin, although it will be also available to passengers in
coach. Calls are not permitted during take-off or landing or within
400km of US airspace.