Calls and emails at 35,000ft as airline unveils "cutting edge" entertainment system

Passengers will soon be able to make calls and receive emails in the sky on board Virgin Atlantic flights, the carrier has confirmed.

In another boost to in-flight connectivity, which is gaining popularity with international carriers quickly, Virgin Atlantic has partnered with Panasonic to offer a new system that allows phone calls, texts and emails as well as new connectivity for mobile devices and an enhanced media experience.

Virgin Atlantic, which set an industry standard when it became the first airline to introduce seat-back screens for all passengers some 20 years ago, says that the high-tech system is "simple and intuitive" for passengers despite offering a leap in on-board functionality.

Passengers will be able to select around 300 hours of on-board entertainment using the touchscreens, which offer added functionality more commonly seen on digital media services, such as film ratings, interviews with cast and directors and critics' reviews.

In Premium Economy and Upper Class, passengers can plug in their own devices to play music, pictures, videos or documents on their screens.

Thanks to a partnership with Aeromobile, the use of mobile devices will be possible on international flights from early 2011, with the carrier saying that it is working on a long-term strategy for "full connectivity."

Although full on-board connectivity is now standard on roughly one third of domestic flights in the US, it has been slower to take off internationally because of the complex satellite-based systems needed (most US flights use aircraft-to-ground communications rather than aircraft-to-satellite).

This means that while call, text and email-enabled flights are becoming more common from carriers such as Ryanair, Lufthansa and Emirates, international flights still lack the on-board wifi connections offered by US carriers such as Virgin America, Alaska and Delta.

It also has an impact on pricing, with international flights charging similar rates to roaming tariffs for calls and texts and exceptionally high amounts (anywhere between €0.50 and €15 per megabyte in EU countries) for snail-paced GPRS data connections.

In the US, $5 (€4.07) will normally buy passengers 90 minutes of high-speed connectivity capable of streaming video.

http://www.virgin-atlantic.com

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