In-flight calls trial at Heathrow given green light by regulator

Do you feel free to make phone calls on your flight? Do you have an answer?

The LA-London Heathrow trial of passengers making “in-flight” calls could take place as early as next month. Not everyone is a fan. Some of them want a no-call zone, along with a ban on any kind of on-board texting, social media or surfing.

That did not stop Transport for London from insisting the trial takes place as London was such a “forward-thinking and progressive” city.

The pilot is being run by the British company GLS, which provides boarding passes and is also the only private company to operate a Heathrow direct flight from LA to Heathrow.

During the 45-minute flight, passengers will only be able to make calls on their own mobile phones. It is hoped that calls will continue uninterrupted during arrivals.

Passengers must leave their phones behind and give the space to other passengers, or choose to empty their pockets of their mobile devices as part of a physical check before boarding.

Since the pilot is being done in partnership with British Airways – GLS’ parent company – it is unclear what the effect it will have on seat sales on flights between London and LA.

GLS describes the experiment as a “first step” and says it is being carried out because it is “being seen as something that people would like to see occur”.

Passengers were told when they were booked on the flight that they could make calls, but the company provided new phones specifically for use while in flight.

Terminal six at Heathrow airport was given the all-clear to host the trial. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Seventy passengers from London and LA are being invited to take part, travelling on two separate flights, each with different start times for passengers to make calls.

After the test is complete, the firm will look at whether allowing calls on planes would be profitable, if passengers would be willing to pay, and whether its system could be used for other international flights.

In-flight calls could also provide an incentive for airlines to invest in high-quality in-flight entertainment, GLS added.

The Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority gave the plane the all-clear to host the trial after a run-through of its onboard technology.

Darren Pawson, GLS’s managing director, said: “There are an increasing number of times when you get on the plane and you have to switch off your devices – but then switch them back on. I think you can have a feature [if you want to] but make it universally consistent.”

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