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Jim Eagles: Sky high call costs limit use

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If you've flown Air New Zealand on the main trunk route in the last week or two and found yourself on the new Airbus A320, you'll have had the chance to use your mobile at 5000m ... or to listen to your neighbour doing important business by phone.

But despite dire warnings from some commentators - notably me - it sounds as though the four horsemen of the apocalypse didn't immediately ride down the aisles leaving death and destruction in their wake.

Even though about 50 readers sent in messages of outrage about in-flight calls - with one or two in favour - no actual passengers have got in touch to say they had been outraged by neighbours shouting into their mobiles.

And that's perhaps not surprising because it seems not a lot of people have felt the need to make voice calls. Air NZ says: "There has been good uptake of text services and, as expected, relatively limited use of the voice service."

Asked how many voice calls that involved, the airline added that "less than 5 per cent of mobile phone activity is currently voice calls" and "voice calls made to date have averaged one minute duration".

One reason for the small number of voice calls is probably the fairly high onboard roaming charges of $3.50 a minute to make and $2 a minute to receive (via OnAir, which provides the onboard connection, and Vodafone, the official network provider), while text messages are 18c, not too painful if you want to remind the family to pick you up at the airport.

It's possible, too, that people are still getting used to the idea of phoning in-flight and may even feel a certain amount of social pressure to turn their phones off ... but that could well fade over time.

So if the pattern changes, and the voice calls become longer, more frequent and more irritating, will the airline do something about it?

Air NZ's general manager of Australasia strategy projects, John Whittaker, said passengers were already being asked to set their phones to silent or vibrate. A quiet zone hadn't been introduced because feedback from other airlines indicated it wasn't necessary.

But, he added, "We will consider [a quiet zone] based on feedback from actual customer experience on board our aircraft." That's good news.

Even an old grump like me can put up with the person next door text messaging and maybe even the odd 55 second phone conversation. But if it gets worse than that, the airline can certainly expect to get a bit of feedback asking for a phone-free zone where I can rest in quiet.

- NZ Herald

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