Text messaging in flight

This item appears on page 90 of the May 2008 issue.

Emirates airline on its Airbus A340-500s now provides SMS (short message service) and e-mail service to passengers’ mobile devices, using a satellite linkup.

Passengers can use their own GSM cell phones for text messages (SMS). Rates for cell-phone text messages are $1 per message. Passengers also can use Emirates’ in-flight WiFi service to send or receive e-mail on their own laptops or WiFi-enabled Blackberries.

Qantas in early 2009 plans to allow passengers on all B747-400 and A330-300 domestic flights to send text messages and e-mail. The cost will be $1.90 per message. Qantas’ system is also satellite-based.

American Airlines, Virgin America, JetBlue and Alaska Air are looking into using WiFi service for passengers on domestic flights. All of these domestic systems will rely on special land-based towers.

Passengers will be able to use the Internet and send e-mail using their own WiFi-equipped electronic devices (laptops, iPhones, etc.). This service will be for data transmission only; Voice over Internet phone (VOIP) will be blocked.

Pending FAA approval, American Airlines hopes to roll out the service by the end of 2008 and will charge $12.96 for WiFi access during flights over three hours and $10 for shorter flights.

In any event, voice calls still can be made on the back-of-the-seat satellite phones commonly priced at $5 per minute.