Virgin Atlantic to allow passengers to use cell phones in flight

The last bastion of freedom from the intrusive, ubiquitous, unrelenting tyranny of cell phone clamour is about to disappear

Wayan Vota/Flickr

Virgin Atlantic has announced it will soon allow passengers to make in-flight phone calls on their personal mobile devices. The service will initially be available only on Virgin Atlantic’s A330 service between London and New York, but will be offered on at least 10 of its routes by the end of 2012. Other airlines won’t be far behind.

And that will be the end of the last refuge on earth — or 30,000 feet above it — from the tentacled control of telephones over our lives.

It used to be — in the good old days — that even the most hardened business traveller and tech junkie was forced to switch off his or her cell phone at the boarding gate and spend the next six or 10 or 16 hours cut off from that constantly pumping umbilical connection with the rest of the world.

Whether they would admit it or not, most of them found the enforced abstinence a blessed relief.

As for the rest of us without a telephone addiction, there has always been a special letting-go feeling of being cocooned  in that metal tube hurtling through time and space with only the most tenuous connection to the earthly  concerns of our daily lives.

Of course there were always the wailing babies and expansive seat mates, but that’s a different form of encroachment — almost a life-affirming intimacy — than the telephonic intrusiveness that now pervades coffee shops, elevators, restaurants and most public spaces, even theatre performances.

I do not want to be trapped on a seven-hour flight from Heathrow to Pearson with the person beside me droning endlessly into his cellphone about his chihuahua’s scabies and the person in front of me engaging in a loud, soul-destroying argument about technical specifications with a colleague on the other side of the world.

I want my seven-hour cocoon trajectory back. And that’s just for an Atlantic crossing. I simply can’t image how noisesomely awful a flight across the Pacific will be a year or two from now when everyone is allowed to chatter incessantly on their iPhones and BlackBerries all the way from Vancouver to Hong Kong.

If long-distance airline flights are now a form of moving purgatory, the addition of cell phone cacophony will make them a living hell.