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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Air France flies in the face of a mobile taboo

14 January, 2008
The seven hour communication black spot which constitutes a flight to New York can be a real pain for many business travellers but everyone puts up with it because the use of mobile phones is Ã「âぎÅ"strictly prohibited" and Ã「âぎÅ"may interfere with the aircraft navigation systems", except on Air France.
Running the gauntlet by breaking the great taboos of mobile phone etiquette is a dangerous business and likely to result in a chorus of clicking tongues and outraged huffs. Thumbing in a quick SMS while you top up with unleaded, forgetting to silence the "Mission Impossible" ring tone during one of the quieter moments of a Brahms piano concerto, sharing a robust laugh with a distant friend in a Virgin Trains quiet zone or, worst of all, making a call just as the nose wheel lifts at the start of a flight. Mobile users are not the most loved people at the best of times but at these moments, they are sure to draw venom from their companions.

Its this social aspect that could put the brakes on a plan by Air France to allow mobile phone use above 3,000 metres. Already undergoing technical trials, the plan is to allow either full voice and data services on its flights or a data only service. The decision will largely come down to the results of a survey the airline is conducting to understand passenger reaction to the plan. If the results are unfavourable, Air France will introduce data only services or none at all.

According to PolicyTracker, one limiting factor is likely to be the availability of signals for roaming users at such heights and over areas that may not have good service coverage. However, if the Air France trials are a success, the communication hiatus that plagues so many business users could become a thing of the past on many of the world's airlines.
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