Ryanair says yes to cell phones

Stephen Beard Aug 31, 2006

SCOTT JAGOW: I saw this poll where 60 percent of people said they’d rather go to the dentist than sit next to someone gabbing on their cell phone. Really, what could be more annoying than that? How about a whole planeful of people gabbing on their cell phones? A low-cost airline in Europe, called Ryan Air, wants to give passengers cell phone service. Stephen Beard reports from London.

STEPHEN BEARD: SFX: This could soon be part of the RyanAir experience, along with hearing one half of an inane conversation bellowed into a cellphone in the next seat. In fact, says Tom Standage of the Economist magazine, this won’t be out of place in the hurly-burly of a cheap RyanAir flight.

TOM STANDAGE: The kind of people who are using RyanAir now are expecting it to be a pretty horrible experience, frankly, as you have to fight your way on to the plane and so forth. So I don’t think it’s going to make things much worse. And it might make things a bit more profitable for RyanAir.

The carrier has signed a deal with a company called OnAir, which will install the technology in RyanAir’s planes and operate the service. The technology, says Kieran Daly of Air Transport Intelligence, will ensure that mobile calls don’t interfere with the plane’s electronic equipment:

KIERAN DALY: You are not, in fact, directly in contact with the type of mobile phone mast that you see on the ground. You are in contact with a system in the aircraft which then safely transmits the signal to the ground.

RyanAir says the charges will be similar to international cellphone call rates. Mainstream carriers like Air France and Quantas will soon be trying out similar systems. Although, says Daly, on long-haul flights where people want to sleep, the service may be limited to e-mail:

DALY: It may well be that, in fact, the e-mail traffic is much more important than voice traffic in the end.

But for passengers disturbed by noisy mobiles, RyanAir’s boss has a simple answer: “If you want a quiet flight, use another airline.”

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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