back to article In-flight calling given lukewarm reception

Air France has started to allow passengers to make voice calls on its flights, though the first passengers are unimpressed by the quality of the service. OnAir's service works by having a low-power base station on the plane to connect calls via satellite. This means calls suffer the lag associated with satellite communications …


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  1. Spleen

    "It sounds like I'm talking to a small robot"

    Perhaps your hearing was affected when the passenger behind you went over the edge and jabbed his plastic fork into your ear.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    does SMS work? I would have thought that would be a much better application - nice and quiet and satellite friendly and there should be no reason not to get 2 way messaging. I guess it would be a lot harder to make money off it though.

  3. Jolyon Ralph

    I'm curious

    How can they determine the size of the robot by voice alone? Do larger robots have gruffer voices?

    ps. vulturepeople. There isn't really any sort of icon suitable for 'i have a question...'

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Selling scratchcards and food?

    Are these Ryan Air employees, or freelance tiffin wallahs?

    The Vulture because the poor thing seems to have eaten some airline food.

  5. Mr Percent
    Thumb Down


    <shouting>I'm on a plane!</shouting> thanks. Will actively seek out airlines that don't allow this "great advance".

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Jolyon Ralph

    ... and how large or small is a "small robot" ... does the Reg have a standard unit of magnitude for robots yet?

  7. Knowledge
    Black Helicopters


    I though in-flight calls already worked. They apparently did on United Airlines flights over Pennsylvania in 2001....the Commission told me so.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    I guess...

    ...this in flight calling system of low power stations and satellites is for overseas/international flights? Because I thought you could just make cell phone calls from an in-flight airplane unassisted....over land with towers anyway...

    Mine is the one with a dugout in the pocket....ta

  9. fergal


    <Verizon> Can you hear me now? </Verizon>

  10. Anonymous Coward

    @ Selling scratchcards and food?

    Don't worry, it's when the bloke comes along selling parachutes and changes of underwear you really need to worry.........

    Mines the one with the jet-pack and the chute built in...

  11. Andy

    Safe Mobiles?

    Next we'll be told that mobiles don't cause petrol stations to explode. Or that we can use them in hospitals.

  12. Mage


    It's Lufthansa for me!

  13. Ed


    Yeah, why isn't there a question mark symbol in the icon list?

  14. Kate Menzies

    @Jolyon Ralph

    "How can they determine the size of the robot by voice alone?"

    I find the voice can be a great source of information. For example a robot might use theirs to convey the following: "I am a small robot"

    I once spent an entire hour long train journey chatting (quite loudly) on my phone. People like me simply shouldn't be allowed to use phones on planes - it just encourages us.

  15. Graham Marsden

    How about a new reality show...?

    Each seat is equipped with an Ejector Device and people can vote for which passenger is having the most annoying conversation and then launch them off the plane.

    *That* would get idiots to keep their voices down (or solve the problem very quickly!)

  16. Mr B

    That's just plane great.

    There used to be the "smoking or non?" and now the "phoning or non?".

    The cigar smoker overtaken by the phonyelling to the <VERY LOUD> ROBOT </> no ta.

    /Mine is the nylon canopy fitted.

  17. Pyros


    > "People are constantly coming up and down the aisles

    > selling scratch cards or food and we believe there is a

    > market for this."

    Oy. Glad I didn't fly this when we had to take a short hop from Milan to Palermo. Can't recall the airline (except that orange is the domiant color,) but it reminded me of Delta Connection, only in a larger plane and half were Italians.*

    *No offense to them--they remind me of Catlanese, Swiss, and Austrians, too. Fewer wrinkly old people than at home in America's wang, too.

  18. Davey Bee

    You must be joking

    "People are constantly coming up and down the aisles selling scratch cards or food and we believe there is a market for this".

    Thank you, Ryanair, for this glimpse of Hell-in-the-air. Your utterly insincere statement has made me determined never even to bother checking the times of Ryanair flights.

  19. Ian Ferguson
    Thumb Down

    Is that quote genuinely from Ryanair?

    Wow, their Head of Communications needs a swift lesson in... well, communications.

    Stating, in an official press communication, that their cabins are noisy and you are constantly being harrassed by scratch card sales people makes them sound awful. I know they are going for the budget market, but still!

    That statement alone is enough to put me off ever flying with Ryanair - regardless of the numerous stories of bad experiences with them that I've heard.

  20. Herby

    "Can you hear me now?"

    NO! Now shut up.

    Where is the Duct Tape and a sock!

  21. Anonymous Coward

    C4 and Mobile Phones

    <Terrorist Leader Thinks Up Mad Plan>

    I can't take a bottle of water on the plane, Oh Shit what can I do.....

    But I can take a mobile phone ( Does that mean I recieve calls too, snarly chuckle ).

    Terrorist fills his phone with C4.

    Terrorist goes to airport ( and looks for a Ryan Air flight).

    Terrorist stands in RyanAir Flight queue ( Its easy to spot, just look for the loud and grubby Scratch Card Hostesses/Sales Person).

    Terrorist drops his telephone in someone else's bag/luggage/pocket.

    Terrorist leaves Airport.

    Ryan Air flight takes off.

    Terrorist phones the C4 Telephone.

    Some scratch card player/food junkie finds/hears telephone in pocket, thinking

    this is my lucky day.


    </Terrorist Leader Thinks Up Mad Plan>

    [News of the World Headline]

    Ryan Air reconsiders In Flight calls after slight technical hitch.........

  22. Peter Gold badge

    @ Graham Marsden

    The ejector seat idea is great, especially if the roof remains closed.

    Mine's the one with "coroner" on the back..

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Not really much of a problem

    The system only supports 6 connections at a time (up to 12 in the future) so hardly anyone will be able to connect in the first place.

    The call quality is crap.

    Incoming calls aren't possible.

    You pay through the nose to use it.

    Everyone will hate you if you use it during a flight.

    And it seems even the most likely users aren't really that keen on having phone access during a flight as they like having a bit of down time.

    So the general business case doesn't seem too strong.

    SMS is potentially useful, but the whole voice call thing is probably a little pointless.

    However I can well see a Ryanair flight being a good source of likely users....

  24. Andy Bright

    I present the following challenge..

    The first person sounding like a small robot to say "Raiders coming in" in their best Starbuck voice (remember girls, anything close would represent at least +1000 on the hotness scale) will be forgiven all their in-flight calls.

    I shall forego my inclination to rectally implant their cell phones on this one occasion, but only if they a/really are girls and b/sound convincing.

  25. Wize

    Quite zone in the plane

    Before anyone starts to ask for phone free areas in the plane to get some quiet, sort out the screaming children first. They are a tad more annoying IMHO.

  26. carlos

    RE: Safe mobiles

    "Next we'll be told that mobiles don't cause petrol stations to explode. Or that we can use them in hospitals."

    I did read somewhere an investigation concluding that the benefits from allowing doctors to communicate with each other in realtime when in a hospital outweighed the inconveniences created from mobile interference (i.e. more lives were saved or less wrong legs chopped).

    I don't know about petrol stations though.

  27. Rich


    I'm surprised they don't safety train homeless people and let them shuffle up and down the aisles going "got any change/scuse me/got any change".

    I reckon aircraft would still be safer than cars if they embarked the Self Loading Freight, shut them in unsupervised and made sure the cabin interior was boganproof.

  28. david Silver badge

    "don't know about petrol stations though."

    No petrol station has ever been damaged by a mobile phone.

    Repeated attempts to ignite petrol vapour from a mobile phone have always failed.

    And even if there was a problem, which there is not, it would be from the cell registration signals, which happen periodically while the phone is turned on, not from talking on the phone, which transmits at lower power.

    On the other hand, you should probably pay attention to what you are doing while filling up.

  29. PaulD
    Thumb Down

    already happening in china

    I've lost count of the number of times a phone has rung mid-air when travelling China Southern..

    It's not the fact that calls are being made, it's the fact that I still have to pay exorbitant roaming charges....

    and no, I won't use a local sim thanks to the flack I get from mates when they get the "Subscriber is power off" chinglish message!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: RE: Safe mobiles

    "I don't know about petrol stations though."

    no no no no yes, mobes do not explode petrol stations (

    though if you are in wyoming usa with a gsm mobile trying *desperately* to reach a cell tower, well mate....

  31. Maty

    hospital phone

    "the benefits from allowing doctors to communicate with each other in realtime when in a hospital outweighed the inconveniences created from mobile interference"

    The hospital where I used to live certainly thought so. Though their security chucked you out pretty damn quick for using your mobile and not their expensive in-house service they didn't seem to mind having what looks very much like a mobile phone mast on their roof...

    My coat please - I'll pay as I go.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Up and down the aisle, selling?

    "People are constantly coming up and down the aisles selling scratch cards or food"

    Is that really what happens on pleb airlines? Wow. How the other half lives, eh.

  33. Rebecca Putman

    Petrol Stations and cell phones

    According to Mythbusters (Season 2, Episode 14,) cell phones don't cause explosions at petrol stations. However, a nice static charge from your hand to your car can ignite petrol fumes.

  34. Paul Stimpson
    Thumb Down

    Call quality

    It's not much wonder the call quality sucks. The hardware on the plane will probably be using the Inmarsat M1 (Mini-M) network or the M1 codec on one of the other products. "Mini-M quality" voice calls run at 2400bps and sound just about OK (=better than nothing) but the codec interacts very badly with the standard GSM codec (twice if you call another GSM phone.)

    So it may be the skimping on bandwidth that saves us from having to listen to people shouting into their phones.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    > orange is the domiant color

    That's Easyjet. It is a low-cost airline.

    Ryanair is a cheap airline. There's a big difference.

  36. Spleen

    Re: Carlos

    "I did read somewhere an investigation concluding that the benefits from allowing doctors to communicate with each other in realtime when in a hospital outweighed the inconveniences created from mobile interference"

    The mobile phone ban has nothing to do with machine interference. If a piece of hospital equipment was sensitive enough to be affected by mobiles, it would have much bigger problems than mobile phones - every single other piece of equipment in the hospital for a start - and even the NHS wouldn't use it. Mobiles are banned in hospitals to force patients and visitors to use the horrendously expensive in-house phone system. So the question is whether this investigation took into account the lives saved by the extra doctors and equipment that the phone revenue pays for.

    Answer: none, it's a trick question, the in-house phone rip-off pays for the salary of the Senior Diversity Administrator.

  37. Andy King

    As a flight commuter...

    I would be happy for SMS and data services to work, but almost every plane I have ever commuted on is too noisy for a phone coversation. It is hard enough having a conversation with someone on the plane without the added satellite compression/delays making conversations harder. Do we really want the show-offs shouting the "I'm on the plane". If it really does become widespread then I will be investing in a phone jamming device to keep the peace!

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    mobes give off far higher emissions levels than other hospital kit, by a factor of 10^^9 - i.e. 2 Watts to 2 nanowatts.

    that makes a difference for EEG machines and the like, which can't avoid having longish wires trailing around.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Terrorist fills his phone with C4.

    They could do that already and have the phone bomb go off in that tricky take off point where everything's full power and laden with fuel.

    So, I guess the question is why don't they do that?

    - They make bombs out of chapatti flour not C4.

    - How much C4 can you get in a phone anyway?

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hospital [mobile] Phones

    There are certainly some areas in a modern hospital where use of mobile phones is not allowed, such as ITU and any area where using a mobile would be considered rather inappropriate (such as the waiting to hear how your loved one died room).

    However the normal wards permit patients and visitors to use mobile phones as long it is done so with consideration and respect for staff and other patients.

    The patientline phone system in place at hospitals is just a little too expensive to be anything other than taking the piss. To phone out costs 10p per minute with a minimum cost of 20p so not too bad, certainly comparable with pay as you go mobiles.

    However they make their money on incoming calls, 39p / min off peak and 49p/min other times with a minumum of 1:42 of recorded talking before you are connected to the patient.

    So to summarise:

    Mobile use on standard wards at reasonable times: Check.

    Mobile use anywhere else: why not just go outside and make the call? What phone call is so important that you have to take it whilst you wife is giving birth (or you are giving birth) or your loved one is having a life saving operation?

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    "People are constantly coming up and down the aisles selling scratch cards or food and we believe there is a market for this" -

    This makes Ryanair flights sound like one of those Indian buses you see every now and then on the T.V, i'd expect to see people inside with chickens and goats. I cant wait to see one take off with 50 people siitting to the roof

  42. Mister Cheese


    Technically yes, mobiles can connect to ground based networks whilst you're 10km up in the air. However they don't work very well as whilst on the ground your phone can maybe 'see' 40km in all directions, when you're high up and flying over a densely-populated area your phone will see hundreds of sites, many of which will be using the same broadcast frequency as these don't conflict at ground-level.

    Less-populated areas may only have a base-station every 50km or so, so you might be lucky - of course the next time your plane flies over a town your call will drop. And since a typical passenger-plane flies at around 800km/h, the handovers between base-stations would be much more frequent than when using a mobile whilst driving - sorry, being a passenger - up the M6.

  43. Paul Charters

    I just wish...

    ....that airlines would realise that they'd do better by just having some sort of network on board their planes. Ideally wired, as it's more reliable.

    People are just aching for something to do on these planes, especially kids - why not just have a small server running some of the most popular game server software?

    It would increase game sales, as well as handheld device sales. I would seriously consider a PSP (well, not a current one, but maybe next generation) if I knew I could just plug into the plane's network and play an FPS against even 7 other people on board, or even just 1 other person and 6 bots...

    The first crummy ringtone I hear on a plane when I'm trying to either watch a movie, play, read, or sleep QUIETLY is the last crummy ringtone I'll hear for a while, because I'll probably end up in prison for snatching it away and returning it to the owner rectally.

  44. J
    Dead Vulture


    "People are constantly coming up and down the aisles selling scratch cards or food and we believe there is a market for this".

    Sheesh... if that's what they DO tell you, imagine what they don't and/or lie about...

  45. Peter Kirk

    Lost for words

    "People are constantly coming up and down the aisles selling scratch cards or food and we believe there is a market for this"

    Never flown Ryanair and I thought that was a joke

    It's true!

    "Announcing details today, Ryanair's Head of Customer Service, Caroline Green


    "Now there are even more good reasons to fly Ryanair! Our new fly-to-win Ryanair

    scratch-card will be a sure-fire hit. Our passengers already get Europe's lowest

    air fares and No.1 punctuality and customer service and now, for only Eur2 they

    can play to win during their flight with fantastic prizes ranging from

    Eur50-Eur200 Ryanair flight vouchers to an ultra-cool Renault Megane


  46. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Bloody Mobile Phones

    The best part of a mobile phone is the OFF button.

    Ahhhh, peace and quiet. Yes, I am no longer reachable.

    Leave a message or leave me alone. I really don't care either way.

    How did our parents cope with not being in 24/7/365.25 contact with each other? How did they even manage to meet each other without spending most of their teen years spent sending TXT MSGS?

    Can I please borrow the PFY's EMP gadget? I feel the need to disable a few thousand bloody phones!

  47. Anonymous Coward

    Switching Phone OFF

    I remember going into a building that requested phones to be switched off, and I couldn't find the off button. So I reduced the volume to minimum.

    Quote "So, I guess the question is why don't they do that?

    - They make bombs out of chapatti flour not C4.

    - How much C4 can you get in a phone anyway?- End Quote" - same amount you can get in the heel of a shoe.

    Actually I think the detectors would find it the moment you walked through the X-Ray machines, and the surprised look on your face of "Whose is that, it's not mine" would help to stop you taking it on board. Also most airlines will not switch on the you can make a call device until the plane is well airborne - just incase of problems.

    Brainiac - a pseudo british science programme "exploded" the petrol station myth some time ago (

    Ryanair joins British Airways in list of airways I will not fly with.

  48. pctechxp

    Talking to a small robot

    So it sounded like R2-D2 or Twiki from Buck Rogers then?

    Would prob sound more interesting than what the airborne mobile user was actually saying in those cases.

    Lets hope this tech flops so that mobiles are confined to the ground as I have enough at work with people's mobiles constantly going off.

  49. Gary Holcombe

    Petrol Stations

    Using a mobile phone at a petrol station wont spark off petrol fumes, but, according to someone I spoke to working in a petrol station, I was told the risk is if the person drops the phone and the battery sparks, or blows up, or something. So if you use your phone while filling up, dont drop it ok.

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