Cell phones in the sky: Airlines that allow mobile use

Some airlines outside the United States allow cell phone use on flights. Exact services vary, but a few carriers even allow voice calls.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
3 min read

Few things in air travel are as polarizing as cell phone use on commercial flights. Though many people quake at the thought of being sealed in a metal tube next to a loud talker, others aren't quite as concerned with peace and quiet. Similarly, while some travelers savor the idea of being out of touch for a few hours, others can't bear the thought of going more than a few minutes without checking their e-mail or updating their Facebook status.

In the United States, at least, such a debate is moot since the Federal Aviation Administration shows no sings of budging from its firm "no phones" rule in the sky. But outside our airspace, some international airlines have introduced cell phone use while aloft. The services are available only on select flights, and exactly what you can do with your phone will vary, but airlines are warming to the idea. Some carrier restrict use to "silent" activities like texting and e-mail, but quite a few allow you to make voice calls. Takeoff and landing are still times, however, when your handset must be powered off.

The technology, which doesn't use standard cell towers, is provided through two companies, AeroMobile and OnAir (Aircraft manufacturer Airbus is a partner in the latter company). In OnAir's case, a "leaky cable" inside the plane broadcasts the cellular signal in the cabin and also converts your communications into a satellite signal. And don't worry about possible interference, as neither company's technology will interfere with navigational systems. Of course, whether that interference even happens is a whole other debate.

Keep in mind that in an era when airlines charge for food and pillows, using your phone won't come cheap. For voice calls you should count on paying at least $3 per minute. Data charges will vary, but count on them being pricey as well. If you have an opinion on in-flight calling--and I'm sure that most of you do--be sure to answer our poll or leave your comment below.

Airline Which flights? Voice calls Texting E-mail/data
Aeroflot Select short-haul flights X X
Air Asia Select short-haul flights X X X
British Airways Flights between London City Airport and JFK X X
Emirates Select long-haul flights X X X
EgyptAir Select long-haul flights X X X
Libyan Airlines Select short-haul flights X X X
Malaysia Airlines Select Boeing 777 flights X X X
Oman Air Select Airbus A330 flights X X X
Qatar Airways Select Airbus A320 flights X X
Royal Jordanian Select short-haul flights X X X
Saudi Arabian Airlines Select Airbus A330 flights X X X
TAM Select Airbus A321 flights X X X
TAP Portugal Select Airbus A319 flights X X X
Wataniya Airways Select short-haul flights X X X

Airlines that have announced cell phone service
  • Air New Zealand
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Lufthansa
  • Singapore
  • Turkish Airlines
  • V Australia
  • Virgin Atlantic
Airlines that have completed trials of cell phone use