Travel Wired: Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You

By Martin Kelly

Excuse me, but I didn’t realize how glamorous speaking on a mobile phone while flying could actually be. That is, until I visited the OnAir website and saw images such as the one used for this column.

Gee, these people are having fun. Maybe they’ve just met and he’s showing her photos of his happy family stored on the phone for moments like these. Or perhaps his wedding ring is about to come off and he’s screening the infamous Paris Hilton video (now available for mobile download).

One thing is for certain, they are not calling anyone.

That because you can’t do that inflight – yet.

But it’s coming fast so you’d better enjoy those moments of high-flying silence, assuming you don’t have a burning urge move to from business or economy class to what The Economist has termed the “chattering class”.

OnAir has just done a deal with Ryanair to equip its entire fleet of 250 Boeing 737s with small base stations, called picocells, that allow mobile phones to be used inflight without causing interference with ground based networks.

The first inflight conversation should be happening on Ryanair by the middle of next year.

Meanwhile, Qantas has teamed up with AeroMobile, Panasonic Avionics Corporation and Telstra to develop a new inflight mobile phone and “electronic device” service it will be trialling on domestic routes in the first quarter of 2007.

You may have guessed that this doesn’t turn me on.

I like flying just the way it is – apart from the odd crying kid or incontinent row mate – because no-one can get to me and the normal rules don’t apply.

At 35,000 feet, I can order a Bloody Mary at 9am without feeling like a loser; look forward to crappy food; read a whole book in a single sitting; watch three movies in a row without interruption; and not talk with anyone for 12 hours.

But that’s me – what do other people think?

The answer may be not that differently.

According to an OnAir survey, most leisure travellers (59%) would not even turn their phone on while flying, although a slim majority (54%) of business travellers would, desperadoes that they are.

Can you imagine – three drinks in, and halfway through the latest King Fu epic from Hong Kong – the phone rings and it’s Rajid from India (“How Are You Today”) asking if you have a mobile phone (?) and want to switch service providers.

Believe me, that’s what will happen … it’ll never be that deal-making conversation, just the everyday junk that I get on planes to leave behind.

Yet what I and other consumers think doesn’t really matter. For the airlines it’s another revenue opportunity, and one that they are not going to pass up.

So order that Bloody Mary while flying toward a flaming sunrise and reflect on our smaller world.

Ends

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