Virgin Atlantic Offers Mobile Service in the Skies


What goes through your head when the flight attendants announce that it’s time to turn off phones and electronic devices? Is it "ah, finally, peace and quiet," "wait! I forgot to call [someone not that important]," or do you smile snidely and take no heed of their direction? Well, you’re not going to hear that announcement for much longer, on Virgin Atlantic flights anyway.

With the official reveal of its Airbus 330-300 (flying between New York and London), the airline is offering in-flight cell phone usage for its flyers. According to a release, passengers on the new Airbus will be able to make calls, send and receive texts and emails, and have access to the web at 35,000 feet, via General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). By the end of the year, the airline says the service will be available for nearly 20 of its aircraft. The cost of the service is a bit steep—one British pound (or about $1.59) per minute, but can go up based on your network provider.

While the service is available throughout the plane, Virgin says it’s mainly directed at business travelers who need to make a short call or send an email or two—"exceptional situations," as the airline puts it. To that end, only six users will be able to connect to the service at a time.

Despite that low number, some have been voicing concern over the potential for loud (or worse, boring) phone chit-chat in cabins. After Tuesday’s announcement, the Associated Press wrote, "The British airline’s new service could be a blessing for business travelers who want to stay connected during eight-hour flights across the ocean. It could also be a nightmare for the passenger sitting next to them."

Sarah McIntyre at Virgin’s U.S. public relations office tried to assuage those worries. "This is more about people making a brief call to the car picking them up," she said in a phone interview, and not meant for passengers to be "chatting away." The feedback during the airline’s trial period with the new service, she said, has been "very positive so far."

This development and the new Airbus is part a $160 million investment by Virgin Atlantic. Other digital goodies include a "technology hub" in the new airplane’s Upper Class cabin with connections for smartphones, USB, and tablets, and a new in-flight entertainment system called Jam.

The service, dubbed AeroMobile, is initially available for customers using the O2 and Vodafone mobile networks. Service will still be unavailable during takeoff, landing, and within 250 miles of US airspace.

What do you think of Virgin Atlantic’s new phone service? Weigh in in the comments below.

Photo credits: Courtesy of Virgin Atlantic