The overall flying experience may change in the coming months as one airline, Virgin Atlantic, has launched plans for new onboard mobile phone service. While passengers will not be allowed to make calls during take-off and landing, they will be able to make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages and access email and the Internet throughout the rest of their flight.
While we’re all accustomed to the strictly-enforced no cell phone rule in-flight, Virgin Atlantic will be the first carrier in a potentially long line of other carriers to add full mobile service to its in-flight experience. Virgin Atlantic announced in May that it will have 20 aircraft fitted with the AeroMobile technology by the end of this year. (Side note: rules in the United States from the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration prohibit the use of cell phones on planes in the United States, so phones will have to be turned off once the plane is within 250 miles of U.S. airspace.)
Virgin Atlantic believes that connectivity in the air is a top priority for business travelers, and I have to agree. Even a short domestic flight can become productive work time when Internet access is available, but this functionality is already becoming standard across large carriers.
The ability to make and receive phone calls opens up new opportunities for travelers to stay connected in the air, but the idea of a peaceful flight with this new functionality will be severely threatened. Numerous travelers already disregard flying etiquette on a regular basis, so can you imagine how in-flight cell phone service could impact your flying experience? Envision sitting next to a loud talker on an hour-long conference call in the middle of a long-haul flight, or picture half of the plane gabbing away with every contact in their phone throughout the duration of the flight.
Perhaps airlines could ramp up their in-flight mobile capabilities by providing Internet access and functionality to send and receive text messages for free without allowing passengers the opportunity to make phone calls. Could you deal with a noisy flight for the opportunity to make a personal call or dial-in to an important conference call?