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cell phone plane flightSay it ain’t so, Virgin Atlantic.

Comes word this morning that Virgin Atlantic has become the first British airline to allow in-flight cell phone calls. The AeroMobile service — which debuted Tuesday on Virgin’s New York to London service — is available on the airline’s A330-300’s to fliers who get their phone service through O2, Vodaphone and T-Mobile.

According to ABC News, the airline said this likely annoyance is “intended for use in exceptional situations, when passengers need to send a [text], make a quick call or access an e-mail on a Blackberry.” Due to bandwidth issues, only six passengers can use their phones at one time, though it’s unclear who or what will regulate who the lucky six are.

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The airline isn’t charging extra for the service, though the Associated Press notes that callers will be subjected to the usual jaw-dropping roaming rates. Virgin joins a tiny minority of carriers that allow cell phone usage, including Dubai-based Emirates (the first carrier to break the barrier in 2008), Oman Air and Royal Jordanian. (The service is not yet available on any U.S. airlines, as the Federal Aviation Administration does not allow cell phones to be used in flight unless they’re in “airplane mode,” which allows fliers to play games but not make calls or send texts.)

I know what you’re thinking, so let’s let George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com, say what’s on your mind. As he told ABC: “The airline cabin is the last refuge for those who wish to be out of earshot of someone yelling into a mobile phone, so I imagine that many passengers are not going to welcome this. I can just imagine sitting next to someone gabbing about nothing at the top of his or her lungs for hours on end. I predict a number of mobile phones will be snatched out of hands and stomped on. Just what we need, with all the other in-flight hostilities that passengers deal with.”

Amen, George. Using phones on takeoff and landing will remain off-limits (and we’ve all seen those who’ve flouted those rules — we’re talking about you, Alec Baldwin), but once you turn on those electronic devices … watch out. I’ve got a bad feeling that this won’t be the last airline to allow in-flight calls, so it’s not hard to imagine a blabby future where passengers from every angle are catching up with family and friends at 32,000 feet.

What do you think? Is allowing in-flight cell phone usage a godsend or an unimaginable evil?

— written by John Deiner

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns Airfarewatchdog.com.

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2 Responses to “Terror at 32,000 Feet: In-Flight Cell Phone Calls”

  1. carole ciraulo says:

    I feel that it is all right to text or check emails, but I DO NOT think people should be allowed to talk, except perhaps in the last half hour. This will be tremendously bothersome to people. I was in an airline lounge in Africa the other day and a guy was talking so loud you could hear him across the room. Imagine this on a plane.

  2. Beth says:

    I can’t imagine a more invasive annoying travel experience than sitting within 10 rows of a cell phone user. Just having to listen to the inane conversations heard on cells and not being able to shut them out or change seats would be a nightmare. No one on a cell speaks in a normal tone, everyone shouts. It would be akin to sitting within 10 rows of a dozen screaming toddlers.

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