BMI rolls out inflight text – but not calls

BMI is piloting mobile internet and texting services on planes, but frequent flyers need not get up in arms about getting stuck next to chatty people, as the airline has wisely chosen to leave out voice calls.

The service, from OnAir, will be trialled for six months on just one plane an Airbus A320, which flies between Heathrow and Moscow. Passengers will be able to use SMS, email and internet on mobiles, PDAs and laptops with GSM SIM cards or dongles.

Peter Spencer, managing director of BMI, said: "It opens up an exciting new era of travellers being able to stay in touch by text message and email whilst in the air.

The pilot project isn't just about testing the tech or the take-up, however. "The trial will help us address some of the social and etiquette issues regarding the use of mobile communications devices inflight and provide valuable customer feedback which will be at the heart of deciding how the service is developed and rolled out across the remainder of our mid haul fleet," Spencer said.

"We have chosen not to implement the voice call option as part of the trial," he added.

That move will likely be popular with many, including IT PRO readers, who overwhelmingly told us mobile voice calls in the air would be irritating. The OnAir system uses a mini picocell base station, which takes signals from inside the plane and sends them to a satellite, from where they're transferred to ground networks.

As the project is still in pilot phase, pricing is still unavailable, a spokesman for BMI said. OnAir said that charges tend to be inline with international roaming rates.

While BMI is laying claim to being the first UK airline to feature such a service, Ireland's RyanAir announced plans for a similar service in September.