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Virgin Atlantic launches in-flight cell use

Service will allow people to make calls, send texts, and surf the Web, but it will be limited and it won't be cheap.

In-flight cell service will be available on Virgin Atlantic's Airbus A330.
Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic will soon allow passengers to use their cell phones during flights, but don't expect your phone-free fuselage to be replaced with coffeehouse clatter.

The airline announced today it will allow passengers to make in-flight phone calls, send and receive texts, check e-mail, and surf the Web via general packet radio service (GPRS) from inside A330 Airbus planes on flights between New York and London. The airline expects to offer the service in 20 planes by year's end, it said in a press release. Boeing 747s are also being retrofitted for the service.

"We have listened to what customers want and connectivity in the air is always on the wish list," Virgin Atlantic Chief Operating Officer Steve Griffiths said in the release. "Many people will have experienced that moment when you're about to take off on a 10-hour flight and you need to send an important message to the office, or even reminding a family member to feed the cat."

However, that privilege will not be cheap: Virgin will charge about $1.20 per minute for the service, and access will be limited to six passengers at a time.

"The service is intended for use in exceptional situations, when passengers need to send an SMS, make a quick call, or access an e-mail on a BlackBerry," the company said.

Customers of Telefonica's O2 and Vodafone networks will be the only ones to initially have access to the service, which will be powered by AeroMobile. And, of course, cell use will be verboten on take-offs, landings, and within 250 miles of U.S. airspace.

British Airways and a handful of Middle Eastern airlines already offer cell phone access.