Lack of connectivity in-flight a ‘real issue’, admits BA boss

Air passengers will soon be making and receiving phone calls on flights, according to Willie Walsh, head of International Airlines Group (IAG).

Walsh told the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) summit in Tokyo: “I hate to say it, but connectivity in the air is becoming a key issue.

“I love turning off my phone in the air. But I’m afraid business travellers are going to appreciate connectivity on flights – including making calls. Research British Airways did in 2009 found people saying ‘do not allow voice calls’. But now we are getting more and more requests for it.”

The head of BA’s parent company said: “I think it is wrong, it will be a step backwards, but it is going to come.” Walsh told Travolution: “People seem to want mobile phone use. We get requests all the time.”

He added: “We conducted a trial on BA’s London City service to New York which has 32 passengers, allowing calls for part of the flight. There were 45 mobile phones on the flight. It was just a few minutes before we heard someone say ‘you’ll never guess where I am’.”

A small but increasing number of airlines offer mobile connectivity on some services, generally limited to text messaging and internet access. But carriers have so far shied from allowing calls in-flight other than for trial periods.

Airline user associations have warned of the risk of air rage incidents if passengers are allowed to make calls, particularly on night flights.

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