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Virgin Atlantic Unveils In-Flight Cell Phone Calls

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Last week we tried to figure out if hiring four designers to spend six weeks making ice cubes to the exact dimensions of one’s face is a sign of overwhelming narcissism or just a good sense of humor. The jury’s still out on that one.

Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic has announced a new plan to make passenger experiences more -- or less, if passengers like quiet -- enjoyable. The airline will now allow customers to make cell phone calls on certain transatlantic flights.

According to Popular Science, people flying on Virgin’s new Airbus A330-300 from London to New York will be able to make calls, send texts, and surf the web. The only trouble: Only six calls can be made at any given time.

Thanks to limited bandwidth on transatlantic flights, chatty passengers may have to compete for a small number of calling slots. Virgin believes that calls will be reserved for “exceptional situations” but it is unclear how they’ll enforce this or, indeed, what constitutes “exceptional.”

Calls will also be restricted during take-off and landing and within 250 miles of US airspace.

Beyond calling restrictions, Virgin’s plan is also limited by the fact that only T-Mobile and European providers Vodaphone (VOD) and O2 (TEF) phones currently work on the aircraft. So, Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) customers will have to wait.  

Still, Virgin’s decision might signal a move towards wider adoption of in-flight cell phone use. Among other things, this means that, soon enough, there won’t be a place on or above Earth to dodge people’s phone calls. Underground might still work.

If you’re wondering, in-flight phone use is restricted for a couple of reasons. According to this interesting explainer from Wired, while mobile use can interfere with avionics, the bigger issue comes from call carriers, as airborne calls can hit a large number cell towers at once. Beyond that, there hasn’t, historically, been enough of a push from customers to warrant changing the policy or sorting out technical issues.
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