Is it just 'plane' annoying?

The introduction of in-flight mobile phone services by Emirates Airline has fuelled industry debate about the possible client response. Arabian Travel News investigates the potential impact of the service on your clients.

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By  Administrator Published  May 6, 2008

Wilson said the service would be "good if it is well managed" but that people would be more against the service if it was "free use and not managed".

However, she's still not convinced that it will be an overwhelming success.

The novelty of mobiles has faded and the days of the proud new mobile owners yelling down their brick-sized phones have disappeared.

"I think they like the idea of having the freedom to use their own phones, but maybe they will not be so keen on everyone else doing it. Though the cost will help to limit this." she said.

According to Brannelly, Emirates Airline will not be using the service as a revenue generator, rather as an "additional amenity for passengers".

"The passenger's own mobile phone provider - not the airline - will set the price paid for using theAeromobile system. Any revenue for airlines will come from the telecoms provider, not directly from the passenger," he explained.

The Dubai-based mobile provider du has signed agreements with both in-flight mobile service providers Aeromobile and OnAir to ensure that its customers will be able to make use of the in-flight service on any airline that is offering it.

"With these agreements in place, any du customer, as soon as he's on the plane, is able to roam as though he were on the ground in Australia, Saudi Arabia or the UK for example," said Andrew Grenville, executive vice president international and wholesale for du.

"It just looks to him like a normal roaming agreement, it's just that you're 30,000ft up in the air."

The primary reason for du offering the service is customer demand, especially from business clients who claim they would benefit from using their mobiles during flights.

"For that reason we went through all the appropriate work, effort and cost of putting these agreements in place and then the airlines will be the ones dictating whether travellers can or can't use the service," explained Grenville.

It won't just be business travellers using the service though; the convenience of being able to make a call on board an aircraft will appeal to many people, according to Grenville.

"When you fly, quite often there are delays and even if you don't want to make a voice call it's really convenient to be able to sit down in your seat and text ahead to your husband, wife, partner, whoever is meeting you at the airport and say you'll be hitting the ground in 40 minutes," he said.

"I think there will be different users. There will be business people who have the need to make some calls - those people would be making a lot or roaming calls whether they were on the ground or in the air - and then there will be more casual users who will just want to call and say they will be landing in an hour, or send a text."

Where passengers will use the service is another key issue for Grenville who said that du always tried to encourage its users to be courteous on land and the same courtesy should be extended in the air, adding that some airlines were saying they would have certain areas of the plane where people could make calls.

"Perhaps they don't want widespread use in the aircraft cabins because it's important, especially on dark hour flights where people are trying to get some sleep, that they don't have somebody next to them talking on their mobile phone for three hours," he added.

"But sitting down the front of the plane making some calls there, ok, it helps them and it doesn't inconvenience anyone else."

So how can travel agents take advantage of this new service? The answer for Wilson is to show that they understand their clients' needs.

"Obviously they could use it as a selling tool for Emirates when the customer puts his three mobile phones down on the desk, or even as a selling tool for other airlines if they can see that their client would frown at the service. It's about understanding the customer and selling them what they need," she said.

Grenville noted that the airlines embracing the service - Royal Jordanian, Air Asia and King Fisher Airlines - were the more "innovative" carriers that wanted to offer a "cutting edge" service to their customers.

So, the future of in-flight mobile use is hard to predict, with Wilson listing two carriers already following suit - Oman Air and Jazeera Airways.

Meanwhile, du is waiting to see how things "pan out".

"It looks like some players in the region are starting to introduce the technology to their fleets and I suppose it's like many things; they will upgrade their fleets, it will roll out more and more over the coming months and other airlines will follow suit," said Grenville.

Wilson agreed but said: "Then will come the backlash and restrictions will be put in place and maybe it will be banned or it will find its natural place."

Call waiting

Airlines offering an in-flight mobile service: Emirates Airline.

Airlines that intend to offer in-flight mobile service: Oman Air, Jazeera Airways, Kingfisher, Air Asia, Royal Jordanian.

Service providers: Aeromobile and OnAir.

Network operators signed up to provide in-flight mobile phone use: du (with Aeromobile and OnAir) and Etisalat (with Aeromobile).

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