Fear and loathing of in-flight chatty Kathy unfounded

Predictions that in-flight mobile phone usage would at best prove a nuisance and at worst provoke an onslaught of air rage episodes haven’t materialized.

Air France pic.jpg

According to Airbus/SITA partnership OnAir, there are three main reasons why this is so – the OnAir system currently allows up to six simultaneous calls, which is not a high proportion of passengers in any commercial plane; the average length of calls is no more than two minutes; and an aircraft cabin is a noisy place, so the sound of people talking is drowned by other noises.

OnAir has been trialling its service on Air France and TAP Portugal, and is readying to go live on Ryanair.

“Despite the challenging current and foreseeable economic environment in the air transport industry, more and more airlines are trialling, installing or planning to install in-flight passenger communications services in the near future, to allow passengers to use text messages and email, and to make and receive voice calls,” says the company.

“The ancillary revenue and service differentiation potential is evidently winning the board-room over.”

OnAir CEO Benoit Debains is convinced that once people get a taste of in-flight mobile phone connectivity, they’ll want it and come to expect it. He notes that there are “applications that people haven’t started to think about” like the ability to access information about each flight, using cell phones as a tool for rebooking and mobile check-in.

Voice calls during flight are presumed to be “something annoying” but the mobile phone “is much more than voice; it can communicate with messaging, make payments, plenty of things and that’s why I think there will be a lot of adoption”, says Debains.

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OnAir’s rival, Arinc/Telenor joint venture AeroMobile, has also discovered that in-flight voice call chatter is more than tolerable.

An Emirates Boeing 777 equipped with the AeroMobile system flew into London Heathrow on 7 August with passengers able to make and receive calls, as well as exchange text messages.

“All the evidence so far is that concerns about potential impact on fellow passengers are groundless. The service has been used considerately and with the minimum of fuss,” says AeroMobile chief executive Bjorn-Taale Sandberg.

“Text messaging is proving particularly popular, especially because it’s an effective way to communicate during a long-haul flight when you are crossing different time zones.”

Emirates VP for passenger communications Patrick Brannelly adds: “Passengers have reacted matter-of-factly, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

“We have had no complaints or incidents since the service was introduced in March.  On airliners the cabin noise level is such that you can’t hear people making phone calls, and the call quality has been so good there’s been no need to shout.”

(Photo of Emirates 777 copyright of AirTeamImages)

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2 Responses to Fear and loathing of in-flight chatty Kathy unfounded

  1. Kevin August 12, 2008 at 11:03 pm #

    I really don’t see what the big deal is. Passengers already use their cell phones on subways and buses and we don’t here a lot stories about bus or train rage. I think as long people comply with social etiquette then it really shouldn’t be a problem. Although you know their will always be those one or two who will abuse the system.

    My question is with laptops and free wifi onboard the aircraft why not just skip the installation and maintenance hassles of the phone system and provide enough bandwidth for six people to use Skype?

  2. Mary Kirby August 13, 2008 at 8:13 am #

    Good question. When the FCC opened up for comment a proposal to relax the ban on in-flight cell phone use, it received a torrent of objections from flight attendants (a rather dedicated campaign) and individuals who claimed that there would be no respite from the noisy chatter. Airlines could allow Skype, but thus far they are choosing not to rock the boat. In my opinion, it will all happen in time as these sorts of arguments (and others concerning ground and avionics interference) are put to rest by Europe and the Middle East.