Simon Kelner: Virgin Atlantic's idea is verging on the unbearable


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It was an exchange which made me realise why I am not rich and powerful. I was telling a friend of mine – a young, wealthy and successful individual – that I thought there was something luxurious about a trans-Atlantic plane journey. You could sit, watch a movie or two, have someone serve you drinks and food, maybe take a little nap and – most satisfying of all – no one could get hold of you.

He looked shocked. It was his idea of hell: how could I bear to be out of touch for such a long time? What if the office needed to get hold of me? What if an important decision had to be made? In this narrow sense, of course, he was right. But he also represented a strain in modern life in which people feel so important that they think they must be available at all times.

We are connected to our friends – real and Facebook – to our family, to our followers (I am talking Twitter here, not religious devotees); to our business life, every minute of the day, and the idea of simply having our own thoughts for company is enough to terrify even the most reflective of modern souls.

Yes, that's right – hours without the philosophical musings of Joey Barton or the self-promotional messages of Piers Morgan. Whole swathes of time without seeing your friends' holiday snaps. No texts or emails. And no one calling you up with problems that have to be solved that very moment. (My friend, Dr G , said that, when an urgent call goes up to find a doctor in the house, he walks very slowly towards the incident on the basis that the matter has generally been resolved by the time he arrives on the scene. I have adopted the same strategy to problems.)

Anyway, for all those who are phobic about being incommunicado, help is at hand with Virgin Atlantic's announcement that they are to permit mobile phone calls on long-haul journeys. For those of us who cannot stand hearing one side of someone's private phone call, it's another degradation of life in a public space. Can you imagine it? You're just nodding off to the sound of Jennifer Aniston being all cutesy and your neighbour's bloody barking dog ringtone goes off. And then someone, attempting to be funny and ironic but actually sounding like an idiot, will actually say: "I'm on the plane."

And on it goes: all you'll hear is people saying "absolutely" and "cool" a hundred times before ringing off with a promise to call "when I get to the other side". And then there's the continual beeping and buzzing of text messages.

And who's going to police their use when everyone's asleep?

The man from Virgin said: "It's quite fun to call home and say: 'Guess where I am?' Not many would think you're travelling at 35,000ft above the Atlantic," but I'm not sure that this was why the mobile phone was invented. And you can hear it now: Damn, I always lose the signal over the Azores!

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