Virgin Atlantic To Allow Mid-Air Mobile Calls

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Becomes first British airline to permit in-flight calls, texts and data between London and New York

Peace and quiet at 35,000 feet could soon become a thing of the past as Virgin Atlantic has announced plans to let passengers make in-flight mobile phone calls.

The transatlantic service will also allow travellers to send texts and access the Internet, but the service is only currently available to customers on O2 and Vodafone, with charges approximately the same as normal roaming costs. Ironically, this means Virgin Mobile users can’t use the service – that provider is part of Virgin Media, and is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) using the network of Everything Everywhere (T-Mobile and Orange).

You’ll never guess where I am

Aerospace, part-owned by Panasonic, will provide the service to Virgin Atlantic’s new Airbus 1330 planes on the London to New York route and will expand to other routes served by the airline’s Boeing 747 fleet, currently the subject of a £50 million refurbishment programme. The system will be available in all cabins, but business passengers are the target.

Naturally, it will be unavailable during takeoff and landing, while US law dictates that it must be switched off within 250 miles of American airspace. Limited bandwidth means that only a few connections are possible at any one time, while only basic web access using GPRS will be available from the start.

“We have listened to what customers want and connectivity in the air is always on the wish list,” said Steve Griffiths, chief operating officer and Virgin Atlantic. ““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! “

Lufthansa and several US domestic carriers already offer in-flight Wi-Fi, while Australian airline Qantas announced an on-board Wi-Fi trial on six plans flying between Australia and Los Angeles in March.

The drive to bring connectivity to every form of transport has seen mobile coverage extended to the Channel Tunnel, while the Cloud and Virgin have won the contracts to bring Wi-Fi to the London Overground and Underground networks respectively.

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