Virgin Atlantic Airways has announced that its new Airbus A330 planes, and later others, will let passengers make and receive cellphone calls while in the air. The company is using AeroMobile, a GSM service that's also signed deals with Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, and others; calls can be placed in-flight any time except during take-off and landing, and passengers are charged standard international roaming rates. This partnership makes Virgin the first UK carrier to allow voice mobile calls during flights, although competitor British Airways currently offers text service.
At this time, mobile service is only offered on the trip from London to New York (and quite likely only in business class, since capacity is limited), but Virgin says it will be added to 17 planes on at least ten routes by the end of the year. Virgin's site claims that AeroMobile's service gets around potential risk to the plane because it "connects to our network using its lowest settings." Unfortunately, it still must be turned off at least 250 miles outside US airspace, dashing any hopes we Americans may have had of getting a similar service over here — though we're sure plenty of people will see that as a boon, not a curse.