Airlines split on issue of mid-flight calls as technology comes on-board

By Jarrod Booker

Air NZ has a domestic flight that is already equipped with the technology.  Photo / Paul Estcourt
Air NZ has a domestic flight that is already equipped with the technology. Photo / Paul Estcourt

We have probably all been subjected to it at some time - the annoying person talking too loudly on a cellphone, making us an unwilling participant in the conversation.

Aircraft journeys used to be a phone-free haven but as airlines - including those operating in New Zealand - introduce in-flight mobile calling, the question is whether passengers will take to it.

Last week Britain's Daily Mail reported that use of mobile phones had been approved on Virgin Atlantic's new A330 Airbuses, a first for a British airline.

The anti-noise action group Noisedirect was expecting a new flood of disgruntled passengers on planes, the newspaper reported.

Air New Zealand says one of its domestic fleets is already equipped with the technology to allow mobile voice calling - but requests that all phones be set to silent.

The Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand favours people using the internet or email, but believes mobile calling on aircraft must be kept to a minimum.

"The last thing I want is to be sitting on a plane next to somebody who is micro-managing their team for an hour - that would be awful," said association chief executive Paul Brislen.

But data and text "can be done quite quietly", he said.

Qantas, which operates subsidiary Jetstar in New Zealand, has no plans to introduce voice call capability on flights.

"Our research with customers tells us they do not want this facility, however they would like to access the internet or send emails," a company official said.

Air New Zealand says its domestic Airbus A320 fleet is equipped for passengers to safely make and receive calls, but it has no "current plans" to extend this service.

"Our experience is that passengers want to maintain connectivity on short-haul flights but there is no current interest in having it available on long-haul flights," a spokeswoman said.

"Given many of our long-haul flights operate overnight, passengers are generally more interested in sleeping."

PHONES ON PLANES

Air New Zealand

* Domestic Airbus A320 fleet already equipped with the technology, enabling passengers to safely use mobile phones to make and receive calls, texts and email during the cruise stage of flights.
* Same technology allows for calls but phones have to be on "silent".
* The airline says it has no plans to extend this service.

Qantas/Jetstar

* Trialling "inflight connectivity" on six of its A380 aircraft flying between Australia and the United States.
* Gives access to internet and email via laptops and mobile devices.
*Airline says research shows customers do not want voice calls.

- NZ Herald

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