Virgin Atlantic To Launch In-Flight Cell Phone Service

Having in-flight access to WiFi is quickly becoming a standard feature on modern airliners, but (thankfully) in-flight cell phone service for voice calls is still a rarity and even outlawed in some countries, including the United States. If you’re flying Virgin Atlantic between New York and London in the near future, though, chances are that at least a few of your fellow travelers will be happily chatting away on their cell phones while you’re riding the jetstream somewhere over the Atlantic. Later this month, Virgin Atlantic is launching its cell phone service on this route and plans to expand this service to ten more routes by the end of the year.

Virgin Atlantic is teaming up with Telenor subsidiary AeroMobile to bring this service to its Airbus 330 planes. AeroMobile’s technology creates a small, low-powered cell network on the plane and then routes calls from the plane through a satellite network that relays the calls to the ground.

This service, of course, won’t come cheap. International calls will start at $1.29 per minute and go up from there depending on where you are calling. Travelers will be able to make voice calls, send text messages and access data (but only over a slow GPRS connection). Because virtually any phone can connect to the in-flight cell network, Virgin recommends that flyers make sure their international roaming feature is turned off to avoid extra charges.

As U.S. regulations forbid cell phone usage on commercial flights, the service won’t be available within 250 miles of U.S. airspace. Phones will also have to remain off during takeoff and landing.

Given the already claustrophobic nature of air travel, the idea of having the guy in the seat next to me make his sales calls from the middle of the Atlantic doesn’t sound very appealing. Hopefully, the fact that this is still a pretty costly service means that most of these calls will be brief, however, and that most users will be courteous enough to just use text messages instead of making voice calls.