Airlines let in ‘explosive’ mobile phone call option

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption People are told to turn off devices on planes as part of a relaxation of rules

People can now make cell phone calls while on planes, raising fears over the impact on airlines’ finances.

Virgin Atlantic, Jet2 and Ryanair have all said they are allowing the use of phone calls and text messages on board their planes.

“Travel has never been safer, so why stop travelling with the friends you love?” Ryanair said.

But European flights may become longer and more cramped following the end of regulations.

The change in the European Union has given airlines the option to allow commercial travellers to use phones and tablets for voice calls, plus send and receive text messages.

Although passengers on short-haul flights will be allowed to make calls during takeoff and landing, long-haul and cargo services will allow the calls to continue until disembarking.

Photo credit: Getty Images

While there has long been such a shift, airlines are now focusing on the possibility of introducing an unlimited mobile call offer for passengers to the long-haul flight market.

“We feel that an on-board mobile offering for the UK is an inevitability,” said John Marchesano, head of digital at UK airline Virgin Atlantic.

It has yet to confirm a timetable for the launch of its offer but IATA data shows that many major airlines are considering what they could offer on long-haul flights.

The willingness of airlines to allow calls, however, could be a concern for the wider international travel market, said New York-based David Brewer, head of the strategy and joint ventures team at consultancy Ernst & Young (EY).

“Mobile communications could limit the use of all-important mid-flight infrastructure,” he said.

Ernst & Young warned that this could seriously impact profits across Europe, without putting much pressure on US carriers.

Some airlines have so far declined to allow calls or text messages, citing concerns over the effect on aircraft, environment, and guest experience.

Only British Airways and Ryanair have completely banned the use of phones and tablets for this reason.

Budget carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle recently said it would bring its Norwegian Air Transatlantic service – from New York to Gatwick and connecting flights from Europe – to Britain in the first half of next year.

Flying rights boss Andrew Herdman said that in addition to a concern over the impact on airport infrastructure, airlines needed to look at the financial impact.

“We’ve always had very selective policies. We’ve deliberately targeted routes where we’ve seen pretty consistent growth,” he said.

“They don’t want to undermine the business model of other operators or the overall revenues that they would like to generate out of their business.”

With the introduction of the option to make mobile calls on planes, such airlines will be better placed to justify such a move to their owners, he said.

“The airline’s shareholders are the carriers, so if there’s the motivation that they need to get the business more profitable, there may be a case for such a policy,” Mr Herdman added.

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