There are a number of "catches," but Virgin Atlantic passengers will soon be able to make cell phone calls on the airline's flights from London to New York, the airline announced this week. No passengers will be allowed to have their phones powered up for takeoff or landing, and only six people will be allowed to talk at once. Each one will pay international roaming rates for the call and must have access to either Europe's Vodafone or O2 carriers, or the U.S.'s T-Mobile. By year-end, the service should be available on as many as 20 of the carrier's aircraft flying 10 routes. Virgin Atlantic isn't the first to offer the service, but there may be reason not to expect U.S. carriers to follow suit soon.
Emirates first offered passengers access to their phones while flying in 2008. Oman Air and Royal Jordanian followed soon after. American regulations require that Virgin Atlantic's cell phone service be turned off within 250 miles of U.S. airspace. Some tech-savvy passengers have reportedly accessed internet-based voice communication through the more common online services provided aboard other airlines. Not all of those attempts have been well-received by cabin crews. Virgin Atlantic expects to roll our service first on A330 Airbus aircraft and then retrofit its Boeing 747s with the necessary hardware. The limit of six passengers at one time is reportedly a restriction set as a function of bandwidth -- the system doesn't offer enough to cater to large groups.