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I recently posted on whether or not cell phone use will be the downfall of aviation, and after the announcement that flyers would be able to keep their electronic devices on throughout flights, even during takeoff and landing, the FCC has also said it is considering a proposal that would allow passengers to use their cell phones to make phone calls and text on aircraft flying above 10,000 feet (still not during takeoff and landing). Currently this proposal has not yet been passed by the FCC in the US, but several international airlines already allow this.
Mobile OnAir provides mobile service for 250 planes on 15 airlines for 16,000 flights a month. AeroMobile provides mobile service for about 170 planes on nine airlines, and about 400 flights a day. These companies are, as can be expected, both strongly supporting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its move to end the ban on the use of cell phones on aircraft in the United States, and if the ban is ended, US flyers could start talking and texting immediately since Gogo is already prepared to offer the service. If the FCC does end the ban, presumably it will be up to the airlines whether or not they offer it.
In the meantime, over 20 international airlines already allow chatting and texting during flights, and so far, the world has not collapsed. In reality, rates are so expensive that many people don’t actually even use the service. International roaming rates depend on each cell phone operator, but usually cost in the range of $3-5 per minute, which is pretty pricey. According to OnAir, this service hasn’t really presented any issues (at least not the ones many US-based passengers and airline crews are concerned about, like people being loud/disrespectful/overly chatty during voice calls). Mobile OnAir states that, “OnAir’s services have been in operation for over four years and no problems have been reported. We should not forget that an aircraft cabin is already a noisy environment, so people talking on the phone doesn’t make much difference. And phone calls tend to be short. Airlines always have the option of turning off the voice element of the service, for example during an overnight flight”.
This data helps to confirm that in flight mobile services aren’t just a crazy free-for-all. Many in-flight voice calls do come with restrictions. They are not allowed during takeoff or landings, airlines generally disable them at night, and the cockpit and crew have separate override switches to turn off voice calls, if necessary. Some airlines require the phone to be in vibrate or silent mode as to not disturb other passengers.
So, consult the list below to find out some of the international airlines offering texting and voice calling service, and the details of each. Keep in mind that rules, regulations, and airlines that offer these services are constantly changing, so feel free to share any updated information in the comments section at the end of this post.
Aer Lingus does not allow voice calls, only WiFi and texting, and only on their long-haul fleet which consists of seven A330 aircraft. Aer Lingus explains that mobiles can only be switched on when safe, and must be kept in silent or vibration mode. Once turned on, you can connect to AeroMobile, and then you will receive a welcome SMS from AeroMobile. Then, you can email, text and browse the internet. However no voice calls, including Skype calls, are allowed within the cabin. Usage is charged by your home mobile operator. You will receive a text from your operator with pricing information and standard roaming rates apply.
Aeroflot was one of the very first airlines to offer internet and cell phone service in flight. The voice call and text service is available on the following planes: A320, A330, A321 and B777. Aeroflot uses OnAir in conjunction with Megafon to supply their internet and call service during the flights. During a flight the service is available for MegaFon clients and for subscribers of other Russian and foreign mobile operators which have roaming agreements with JSC “MegaFon”.
Air France allows texts and WiFi only on two long-haul B77-300 planes. They use Aeromobile to provide their mobile communications. According to Air France, “Passengers need to have a mobile roaming agreement – the same as for calls made abroad. And the cost for the service is charged by their mobile network operator in the normal way.”
Azerbaijan Airlines offers all three options: WiFi, voice calls and texting on their A320 planes. They use OnAir as their service provider.
British Airways allows WiFi, voice calls and texting on their Club World London City planes, using mobile service provider OnAir. These flights are business-class-only flights that operate from London City to JFK. They were the first company in Europe to allow the voice calls option, and it went into effect July 1, 2013, so relatively recently. Passengers must have an international roaming service plan in order to access the service, and once the plane has entered US airspace, the service is disabled.
EgyptAir has all three services: voice calls, WiFi and texting available on their A330 planes through service provider OnAir. They are also apparently quite strict on having the phone maintained in silent or vibration mode during the flight.
Voice calls and texting have been allowed on Emirates since late 2012 through OnAir. Available on over 300 flights a day including a growing number of A380 flights (mostly those operated to and from Dubai). Select A380s and Boeing B777s also feature GPRS/EDGE services.
On select Etihad A320 and A330 aircraft, you can use your mobile phone for voice calls and texts. If you have a smartphone with a data-roaming plan, you can also access the Internet and your emails. In-flight roaming charges (which are similar to international roaming rates) will be billed by your domestic mobile service provider. Using OnAir as their service provider, 13 Etihad aircraft have been equipped with inflight connectivity (as of mid 2013), and the airline has an aggressive roll-out plan, with plans for the entire fleet to offer connectivity by mid-2014.
Hong Kong Airlines
Hong Kong Airlines uses OnAir to provide mobile services like voice calling and texting as well as free WiFi, on their A330-200 all-business-class flights between Hong Kong and London.
With the same agreement as Air France, KLM provides inflight WiFi and text messaging but no voice calls through Aeromobile. These services are available currently only on their B777-300 planes. According to KLM, “Passengers need to have a mobile roaming agreement – the same as for calls made abroad. And the cost for the service is charged by their mobile network operator in the normal way.”
Libyan Airlines uses OnAir to provide voice calls, texts and WiFi to its passengers. So far, the airline has 4 planes A330s fitted for connection, but has only taken delivery of two so far. These planes fly to Europe and Asia.
Oman Air allows you to make calls, text and use WiFi on select A330 flights using OnAir as their service provider. They note that international roaming charges will apply and of course these vary according to your personal mobile service provider. Oman Air suggests you contact your provider before flying for specific pricing and rates.
Philippine Airlines is the first airline in the Philippines to launch mobile service-voice calls and texting. The airline is currently retrofitting its Airbus A330-343s and Boeing B777-300ERs with GSMConneX equipment in partnership with OnAir that will give passengers WiFi and GSM connectivity. These planes typically operate routes to and from Asia Pacific, Australia and North America.
Qatar Airways uses OnAir to provide their service for voice calls, texts and WiFi. Inflight mobile services available on select A319, A320, A321 & all B787 aircraft. Qatar makes it a point to notify passengers that service is 100% safe to use on the planes, for anyone that may still be worried about risks of cell phone use interfering with airplane technology.
Royal Jordanian decided back in 2007 to offer in flight mobile services via OnAir. They started by offering it on their A320s in 2009 and later branched out by installing OnAir on their A340’s as well.
SAS offers in-flight mobile service by Aeromobile. In-flight voice calls, texts and WiFi connections are permitted on select B737-800 planes that operate within Scandinavia and Europe.
Saudi Arabian Airlines
Saudia uses OnAir Mobile on board its Airbus A330 aircraft (and now more recently on selected Boeing 777-300ER aircrafts) so passengers can receive and make both voice calls and texts. Once in the air, you can turn your phone on and connect to the OnAir network.
Singapore Airlines allows WiFi and texting on select A380 and Boeing 777-300ER flights. The cabin crew on your flight will make an announcement if your flight is equipped with connectivity. They use OnAir as their service provider and charges will later be reflected on your mobile phone bill.
TAM is the first airline in Latin America to offer in-flight connectivity. Now, over 26 Airbus A319, A320, and A321 air crafts are equipped with in flight WiFi, voice calls, and texting via OnAir. Most of the air crafts fly routes within Brazil. TAM explains, “Mobile phones work in exactly the same way as in
international roaming and can be activated as soon as the aircraft reaches an altitude of 4,000 metres (13,000 feet). Usage is charged directly by the mobile network provider to the passenger’s phone bill, and rates are set by his or her usual provider.”
Russian airline Transaero currently has 13 planes connected to its Russian satellite provider, RuSat. They are in the process of expanding their in-flight connectivity and mobile communication service, with 30 aircraft to be connected by early 2014. So far, the planes connected are the Boeing 737-800 aircraft flying from Moscow to a combination of domestic and international destinations, such as Sochi, London, Rome, Milan, Frankfurt, Dubai, Vienna, Yerevan, Shymkent, Aktau, Almaty, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Yekaterinburg. The airline’s new Boeing 737NG aircraft are also being equipped.
With Virgin Atlantic, as long as your phone is activated for international roaming, you can use it to text, make voice calls and connect to WiFi using Aeromobile. Aeromobile is available on half of the Virgin Atlantic fleet (mainly the A330-300 B747-400) including all aircraft based at Gatwick and select aircraft at Heathrow and Manchester. When flying over US airspace, Aeromobile is automatically disabled.