Emirates became the first airline to offer mobile phone use aboard a flight to or from Britain last week as passengers on a service into Heathrow made more than 30 calls.
The Emirates Boeing 777 flew into London from Dubai last Thursday. The airline began fitting its aircraft with a system allowing inflight-mobile use in March. However, mobile use is still not authorised in UK airspace and phones must remain switched off on the vast majority of flights because they interfere with cockpit systems.
Other airlines have carried out trials with the AeroMobile system devised by a UK-based company and used by Emirates – including Air France-KLM, Qantas and Turkish Airlines – and Ryanair has pledged to fit one quarter of its fleet with the system and charge passengers for its use. But Emirates said it would not charge passengers for using a mobile.
The service is only available on 10% of Emirates flights and can only be accessed above 23,000 feet. Passengers must keep their phones on silent throughout and the crew can turn off the system or make it text only at any time.
An Emirates spokesman said one in five passengers used their mobiles on the flight, making 30 calls and sending and receiving about 100 text messages.
Aviation trade unions and corporate travel bodies have warned mobile use may inconvenience other passengers and lead to air-rage incidents. But Emirates vice-president for passenger communications Patrick Brannelly said: “We have had no complaints or incidents. The cabin noise level on airliners is such that you cannot hear people making phone calls and the call quality has been so good there has been no need to shout.”