Inflight Phone Calls and VoIP

by Brian McConnell

As I write this, I am somewhere over the North Sea on my way back from Norway. I am flying SAS back to the US. SAS has equipped most of their long-haul fleet with inflight Internet service using Boeing's new Connexion service.

I tested the service and am quite impressed. It is a big leap forward compared to the $4 per minute payphones on most US airlines. The Internet connection is relatively fast, more than adequate for web access, email, and VPN access.

I also put it through its paces with some VoIP calls via X-Ten, using several VoIP providers. I also used it to place some calls via Gizmo. Connexion is a satellite based service, so as I expected there is a noticeable time delay in voice calls, but overall performance and audio clarity was quite good. This was not a scientific test, but it worked, and worked better than I expected.

At $9.95/hour, or $26.95/flat rate per flight, it is not a bad deal. If you buy an hour or two of access, and spend most of that time on the phone, it works out to $0.10 to $0.15 per minute depending on the rate plan. Not a bad deal.

I know some people decry the arrival of telephone service on flights. I can sympathize with people who don't want to be bothered with other people's conversations, but at the same time a noisy jetliner is not exactly a tranquil place. I often find myself bored out of my mind on long flights, so I welcome the ability to chat or talk with people on the ground and/or get some useful work done.

NOTE: another nice bonus feature is live video. Connexion also offers several live TV feeds from CNBC, BBC World and a few other channels. I didn't have a chance to test these, as they required Internet Exploder and Windows Media Player.


Bruce Stewart
2006-02-28 16:05:45
I was just flying yesterday and looking at those old, tired Verizon phones built into the seat backs of United's fleet which you never see anyone using. I remember the one time I tried to use one, the background noise in the plane made it impossible to have a coherent conversation (not to mention the obscene pricing structure). I look forward to services like this hitting US air carriers, and I bet with a headset/microphone set-up a much more reasonable call experience could be had.