By LAURA WESTMACOTT
Nov. 10, 2006 — Dubai-based Emirates Airline announced that it would become the world's first airline to introduce in-flight mobile phone use across its fleet. It has beat rivals Ryan Air and Air France to the post.
Phones are currently banned on all flights as soon as the engines start because they can cause signal surges that can interfere with navigation and communication systems of the cockpit.
The airline has invested $27 million to fit the fleet with equipment supplied by AeroMobile, which will allow passengers' cell phones to operate at their minimum power setting, thereby allowing their safe use.
It will be celebrated by workaholics, who suffer withdrawal symptoms when that all-important umbilical cord is severed between them and their phones.
But what about the millions of customers who found flying light relief from the office or family calls, and now have to contend with the in-flight chorus of "Hi Mom, I'm over Greenland," on top of the wailing babies and constant drone of the engines?
Steve Double, associate director of AeroMobile, told ABC News there is considerable demand for the service, as there are currently 6,000 calls a month placed from the in-seat phones. Double also divulged his company is currently in talks with Qantas, as well as European and U.S. airlines. And he vehemently denied the service would become an annoyance to other passengers.
"A phone etiquette will be put in operation, in much the same way as a restaurant and cinema," Double said. "Passengers will be requested to switch their phones to silent or vibrate mode, and the phone service would be switched off for night flights. The cabin crew will have ultimate control of the system."
There are limitations to the service; it can't be used on takeoff and landing, and during climbs or descents. And only five passengers will be able to make voice calls at the same time.
David Learmount, safety editor of Flight International magazine, said that "most passengers don't want the service; they won't observe phone etiquette and silent cabins will have to be offered."
Some have even voiced safety fears about phones being used to trigger bombs onboard, but Emirates' spokesman, Charlie Hampton, said, "Emirates, in conjunction with AeroMobile, have carried out numerous security evaluations and we have had clearance to operate on 32 of our routes."
Emirates says the phone technology will be rolled out in January 2007, and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) data and Internet capability will be added as soon as the necessary communications systems are upgraded next year.
So, you'll be able to use your whole office in the skies.