On Tuesday, Virgin Atlantic announced that passengers can now make and receive calls on their mobiles while in the air at 35,000 feet. While this may be good news for business people who wish to stay in touch during a flight, it may not be much fun for the person sitting next to them.
At first, the service will only be available to users of Vodafone, O2 and T-Mobile. The airline says that it will be limited to six passengers at a time and then only in exceptional circumstances. Passengers can call, send texts or access their e-mail on their mobiles. Virgin Atlantic won’t be charging for the service but normal international roaming rates will apply.
This service started on Tuesday on the Airbus A330-300 route between London and New York. Use of mobiles on airlines is a contentious issue but Emirates have been offering the service since 2008 and Oman Air and Royal Jordanian soon followed suit. Virgin Atlantic will be monitoring how their passengers react to the new idea but hope to extend the service to up to 20 planes by the end of the year.
The new service is part of the upgrade of Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class cabin but it will be available to Coach Class passengers as well. The upgrade is costing the airline $160m. It is obviously not allowed to make calls during take-off or landing and within 250 miles of American airspace.
Virgin hope the idea will be a success but they will not want to do anything to jeopardise the lucrative London to New York route. Currently they have five flights there a day but hope to expand to six. British Airways and American Airlines together offer sixteen flights per day on this route. If passengers do not like the idea of mobiles being used on flights then Virgin may have to re-think their strategy.