News :Phone! SMS! No, I want WiFi on all my flights

Connectivity in offices, home, cafes, trains, parks, cars and planes – I say bring it on. I have already shifted most of my life to the “cloud,” and it is not much of a surprise that I am a shameless believer in connectivity. That is why I am excited about Aeromobile, which is making it easy to use your phones on planes, including transatlantic flights.

Aeromobile is a UK-based company that is jointly owned by Telenor, a telephone company, and Panasonic Avionics, which recently became a majority share holder. Panasonic has developed the satellite technology that makes the connections work. Aeromobile is working with several airlines such as Emirates to wire their planes for connectivity.

Last week, Virgin Atlantic, part of the Virgin group, announced its intentions to offer a service powered by Aeromobile. For now, the service is restricted to Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class cabin, and only flights between New York and London.

AeroMobile allows passengers to use their own mobile phones in the air. Even better, the new entertainment system is smartphone, tablet and USB compatible, giving passengers the choice to read, watch or listen to their own media. The re-designed cabin will also soon be available on the Mumbai service, from October this year. (from WallPaper magazine)

Virgin Atlantic, on its website, adds:

Instead of spending a fortune using satellite phones, this new system’s charges are almost the same as they would be if you were roaming from another country. Plus, the calls and texts will be added to your mobile bill after you’ve flown, so there’s no nasty credit-card bills. As long as your phone is activated for international roaming, you can use it to make calls, receive texts, and, on BlackBerrys, receive email. By the end of 2012, we expect Aeromobile to be available on 13 of our aircraft. (Some countries like the USA don’t allow mobile phone use in their air space. In these cases, the system will automatically switch off.)

They actively encourage you not to use data roaming for Internet access as it is going to result in a cardiac-inducing phone bill.

While I am excited about the ability to send and receive SMS, I don’t much care about the phone calls. What I really want is in-flight Internet access on long transcontinental flights. The nearly 22 hours of flying time to New Delhi without connectivity makes me jittery. As for SMS messages – iMessage, Facebook Messenger and What’s App do just fine for me.

Lufthansa’s Flynet

Whenever flying across borders, I prefer Lufthansa, which is one of the more punctual and efficient airlines in a world dominated by penny-pinching and shoddy service providers such as United, American and Delta. And they fly pretty much everywhere. What makes them even more attractive   — they are promising to wire their entire fleet by the end of 2012 for WiFi access, though I’ve yet to be on a Lufthansa flight departing from San Francisco that has WiFi. But hope springs eternal. Even the APEX’s editor blog assures us that…

Lufthansa is offering in-flight high-speed Internet on about 60% of its long-haul fleet, and expects to complete installations of Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band satellite-supported system across the remaining 40% by the end of 2012.

A former customer to now defunct Connexion by Boeing, Lufthansa reignited in-flight Internet service — dubbed FlyNet — in late 2010. It started with its Airbus A330s, moved to the A340-300s, and is now fitting A340-600s and Boeing 747s.

Today, I don’t normally get on a domestic flight without WiFi – think Virgin America. I bet soon, we will have similar expectations of international flights as well.

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