Ryanair flights to set the tone for mobile phone use by passengers

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The Independent Online

Passengers flying withRyanair may be able to use mobile phones on board from next year.

While other airlines are more cautious about the impact of loud phone conversations on other passengers, the Irish "no-frills" carrier has completed a deal with the communications company OnAir to offer the facility on all Ryanair's Boeing 737 aircraft.

It means that, subject to regulatory approval, passengers will be able to use their mobiles and other devices, such as a BlackBerry, on board, starting from the middle of next year.

Air regulators currently ban the use of mobiles on aircraft because of the danger of them interfering with on-board instrumentation. OnAir however believes that its new system overcomes such difficulties.

Michael O'Leary, the Ryanair chief executive, said the initiative would make the airline the first European carrier to offer such a service across its entire fleet through passengers' own mobile phones and "smartphones". He said the initiative would enable the airline to reduce costs.

The OnAir system would allow mobile phone operators to charge passengers at "current international roaming" tariffs via their normal monthly bills. Ryanair would then receive a commission on the revenues generated.

Ryanair's no-frills rival easyJet has no plans to emulate it and both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are adopting a "wait and see" approach. The airlines are concerned that some people's habit of shouting during conversations on mobile phones would disturb other passengers. A spokesman for British Airways said: "Even if the authorities changed the regulations and allow mobile phones, we would want to think very carefully about it. We would want to make sure customers wanted them on board.

"We will be led by feedback from customers. If you asked someone on a business flight to Brussels, they would probably welcome the ability to ensure that their meeting is still on, or that the paperwork had been properly prepared.

"Ask the same question to the same person on a 12-hour flight from Hong Kong and he might tell you something very different."

One possibility would be to allow the use of mobiles on short-haul flights only, or offer passengers the option of "silent" communication through texts and e-mails via laptops or hand-held devices, the BA spokesman said.