Mobile Data Takes Flight on British Airways

British Airways raised some eyebrows earlier this week when it announced it would offer limited in-flight use of cell phones. For the moment, BA is willing to allow only SMS and data usage on business-class flights from London to JFK.

BA is following in the footsteps of several other airlines. Emirates was the first to offer cell phone usage during flights –- including voice calls (at a pricey $2.80 per minute). According to Emirates' U.S. site, it's currently charging $1 per SMS/e-mail, and the airline has plans to outfit its entire fleet with the technology. Air France, BMI, and Qantas also have begun allowing varying usage of cell phones during flights. BMI is in the middle of a six-month trial of its OnAir service (no voice calls and the trial is for a single Airbus A320 flying between London and Moscow), while Qantas announced early last year that the initial data-only evaluation "was a great success" and would be outfitted to Boeing 767 and Airbus A330 flights in Australia. Air France not only allows data usage but also held a trial last year for voice calls, both a rare move and apparently still a work in progress, as the voice calls were said to be of poor quality.

According to the Telegraph, "BA might consider the introduction of voice calls if the text messaging service proved successful." But the general feedback indicates that BA customers would abandon the airline if it starts permitting fliers to prattle on their cell phones during a flight. As other airlines begin picking up on the trend of offering data plan usage, very few have given the go-ahead to extend their plans to include voice calls. The message boards show that while business fliers are relieved to be able to continue working while flying, no one wants to be a forced participant in other people's conversations. That, of course, is what the bus is for.

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