'Hello? I'm on the plane': Ryanair passengers will be able to use mobiles on board – at a price

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The Independent Travel

With crying babies, cramped seating and an overpriced cheddar sandwich for sustenance, budget airline flights have never been the most comfortable or stress-free of journeys.

But passengers will soon have another annoyance to deal with on board – an infuriating ringtone and the sound of their neighbour bellowing into a phone: "Hello? I'm on the plane!"

The Irish budget airline Ryanair has announced that passengers will be allowed to use their mobile phones onboard 14 of its 166 aircraft within a fortnight. Initially, passengers signed up to O2 and 3 will be able to use the service.

Only six passengers will be able to talk on their phones at one time but all on board will be able to send and receive text messages, and use email via a Blackberry device. The carrier said it would roll out the technology across its entire fleet after six months if the trial is successful.

A price has not yet been fixed for the service but the company behind the technology predicted in-flight calls would typically cost about £2 a minute. The airline will take a cut of the fee for every call, text and email.

Ryanair's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, has previously been clear in his message to those put off by the prospect of having to overhear conversations at 30,000ft. "If you want a quiet flight, use another airline," he said. "Ryanair is noisy, full and we are always trying to sell you something."

Safety concerns have previously held back the use of mobile phones on planes. But the European Aviation Safety Authority has allowed the use of Ryanair's phone system, designed by OnAir.

The technology weakens the signal emitted from mobile phones, meaning they do not risk interference with a plane's avionics. Ryanair could soon be copied by several other airlines as carriers look for ways of boosting revenue during one of the toughest economic climates the industry has faced. Air France and BMI are running trials of the technology. Thirteen airlines around the world are said to be testing the system.

Some passengers have already expressed concerns. "It was a concern that it may be infuriating for other passengers to hear the calls but that is not what we have found," said Charlie Prior, a spokesman for OnAir.

"The rates of the calls mean that passengers only use the service for two minutes at the very most.

"The crew can also switch off the call-making facility at any time. That means the system can be adjusted for long-haul flights so that passengers can only use the text and email facilities."

BA said it has no plans to use the technology after a customer survey found the majority were against it. Qatar Airways installed the technology earlier this year, but limited passengers to the use of text messages in an attempt to avoid air rage created by callers.

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