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Virgin Atlantic lets airborne passengers use mobiles

Some passengers on Virgin Atlantic can now make mobile phone calls, send and receive text messages and check their emails from the airline's planes.Virgin Atlantic announced the move on Monday, making it the first UK carrier to let passengers use their own phones for voice calls in the air.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

Some passengers on Virgin Atlantic can now make mobile phone calls, send and receive text messages and check their emails from the airline's planes.

Virgin Atlantic announced the move on Monday, making it the first UK carrier to let passengers use their own phones for voice calls in the air. However, other airlines such as Emirates have used the same technology for years, and BA also offers text and data connectivity.

At the moment, only O2 and Vodafone customers can use Virgin's service. The airline says it is working on letting other operators' customers onto the system, but has not yet revealed a timescale for this.

"We have listened to what customers want and connectivity in the air is always on the wish list," Virgin Atlantic chief operating officer Steve Griffiths said in a statement. "Many people will have experienced that moment when you're about to take off on a 10-hour flight and you need to send an important message to the office, or even reminding a family member to feed the cat."

Passengers in all cabins will get to use the service, which also provides basic GPRS data connectivity. However, use will be forbidden during take-off and landing and within 250 miles of US airspace, due to laws there.

Those using the service have to pay roaming rates to do so. A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson told ZDNet UK that it costs 17p for texts and £1 per minute for calls, but was unable to clarify the rates that will be charged for GPRS usage.

The equipment comes from AeroMobile, which is majority-owned by Panasonic. The service is live on Virgin's new Airbus A330-300 planes and will also be available on Virgin's B747s, which are undergoing refurbishment.

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