Plane talking

12 Aug 2008 by Mark Caswell

onboard Emirates flight EK005 made history last week, as the first in-flight mobile
phone calls were allowed on a commecrial aircraft flying into the UK.

The Dubai-based
carrier officially launched the service in March of this year (see online news
March 20), but this is the first time one of its mobile phone-enabled aircraft
has flown in to the UK. Passengers onboard the Boeing 777 made over 30 calls
and sent or received nearly 100 text messages during the seven-hour flight from
Dubai, equvalent to around 20 per cent of travellers.

Emirates has
fitted 13 of its fleet with the Aeromobile-operated system, which ensures there
is no interference to the aircraft’s equipment by reducing
the signal strength of passengers’ mobiles to around 1,000th of the usual strength on the ground. The cost of calls and text messages is determined by the individual’s phone operator, and is treated as just another roaming agreement.

The carrier says
it has received no complaints since the service was introduced, and has
guidelines for the appropriate use of phones onboard,
including requesting passengers to have their phones switched to “silent” mode
during the flights.

Patrick Brannelly, Emirates’ vice president of passenger
communications and visual services said: “The nightmare scenarios of
everyone jabbering away just aren’t happening. There are only about
five or six lines to begin with, so if they are all taken, you might
have to wait a few minutes.”

One worry was passengers would keep other passengers awake during the night, but Brannelly says this has not happened.

“Every seat on every plane has had its own phone since 1996, so it’s
a problem that doesn’t exist. There is no quiet zone on board because
it would not be practical. What’s interesting is that on some night
flights there have been no calls, but when we’ve looked at it, we can
see that people are using the system to SMS rather than make voice
calls. Social conditioning means people know how to behave: they don’t
want to disturb others, and they don’t want to be overheard.”

So why isn’t it on the carrier’s new A380? “The mobile phone system evolved over
two years ago, but by then there was a design freeze on the A380 so it
couldn’t be embodied, so it might be a few years before it appears on

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