‘No mobiles’ sign replaces no smoking sign on aircraft

It’s a sign of the times: the empty space where the smoking/no-smoking sign used to be on aircraft will soon have a new use as a mobile service/no mobile service indicator on flights around Europe.

The ability to use your mobile device when flying is likely to soon become a reality on certain airlines, reports the specialist spectrum policy newsletter, PolicyTracker, with Air France now conducting the world’s first trial on international flights.

Using a system developed by Airbus associate OnAir, passengers on an Air France Airbus A318 can use their mobiles at heights over 3,000 metres just as if they were roaming in a foreign country while paying much the same rate for the service.

The only fly in the ointment at this point is that while most European telecoms operators have agreed to the mobile service being provided in their national airspace, some have not. When the trial flight overflies countries like Spain and Portugal which have not yet approved the service, the no mobile service sign lights up.

Air France reports there has been a warm reception from travellers to the initially data-only service, with business travellers in particular delighted to be able to stay in touch via email, SMS and MMS while airborne.

The crunch part of the six-month trial, which kicked off on a flight between Paris and Warsaw, will come in a few weeks time when voice is also introduced allowing passengers to make and take ordinary calls on their handsets.

Air France is expecting a lot of passengers to be against their fellow travellers holding phone conversations, and every passenger is being given a questionnaire to put their views about the service. Depending on what the majority of passengers have to say, Air France may launch a full service, a data-only service or no service on the rest of its fleet.

Other airlines are watching the trial with interest, and cut-price operator RyanAir has announced it plans to launch a commercial service on its 200 Boeing 737 aircraft in March.

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