Emirates Airlines has announced its intentions to be the first long-haul airline to allow cellphone use in flight. Opinions on in-flight mobile phone use are passionate: People love the idea of connectivity or they hate/fear the intrusion that jabbering on the cellphone will create for fellow passengers. Most, including yours truly, are in the latter category:
In one US study, only 11 per cent of the 50,000 passengers asked wanted to make calls while on a flight. Many said that they enjoyed being uncontactable, and business-class passengers in particular were eager to catch up on sleep rather than use their phones.
But digging deeper into the announcement, it seems that the annoyance may be mitigated by a few factors. First, cost:
The calls will be charged at regular international roaming rates, with the airline taking a percentage to cover its investment. Using a phone in flight will cost about £2 a minute, or 60p for a text message.
That isn’t cheap, and is nearly comparable to the price of those Verizon AirFone handsets that were recently shut off. (How often did you ever see anyone actually use those?) So conversations will be short. If you’re going to use your mobile, then text-messaging is the way to go.
But besides cost, the airline has some control over the system:
Emirates says it will counter these objections by allowing air crew to switch off the system at night, so passengers can only send text messages. The airline may also introduce quiet zones.
I can live with that, especially the proposal to have quiet hours. Am I thrilled with the idea of phones ringing all around me? No. But cellphones are coming on planes — they’re even replacing the “no smoking” light with “no phones” on newly-built planes, after all. And much like flight attendants ask you to lower the shades during long daytime flights, the airline can impose quiet time. An airline that DOESN’T offer a quiet time, on the other hand, is obnoxious.
As I said, I think text-messaging, not voice, is the sweet spot here, so the company won’t forfeit too much revenue by limiting voice hours. But don’t expect similar restraint from carriers like Ryanair, who are also planning to roll out cell phone service.