Air New Zealand is testing something which I view with grave concern.
They are testing a system that hijacks cell phones on their flights, and charging extortionate data rates along the way.
The proposal is to place a mini cell-site inside the aircraft, and have it connect to satellite. Any calls or data traffic made during the flight would attract roaming rates which are beyond the standard international extortion:
- Calls will be $3.50 per minute
- Inbound calls will be $2.00 per minute
- Data will be $20,000 per Gigabyte
- Texts will be 80 cents to send
The calls are expensive, but we want calls to be short up in the air, and given the noise of an aeroplane and the discomfort that fellow passengers will project to loud callers I see little issue here.
However beware your teenage daughter texting her mates as you wing your way North – 30 texts will leave you $24 short
But it’s data that is the problem. Let’s look at a sample flight. If you leave your cell phone on then receive a call ($2 if you hang up within 1 minute), send 4 texts ($3.20), check out the news on a few websites (say 10 pages at 1.2 MB = $240) and update your copy of an iPhone app (say Penultimate at 16.5MB, or $330) then you’ll be up for $775.20. That’s all possible within the space of a few minutes, and it shows the ludicrous nature of those data charges.
Don’t even think about tethering or using your T-Stick or Vodem. If you happened to receive an automatic OSX or Wndows update that was just 100 MB then that’s $2,000 thanks. Getting an updated movie from iTunes syncing across in the background? That’s about 1.5 Gb and a cool $30,000 thank you very much.
This isn’t just a rant as I use a lot of data. The average amount of data consumed on one mobile network in NZ (not sure which one), reported by Akamai, is 481 MB per month. Do that while flying with Air New Zealand’s new system and that will cost you $9,620.
This is not about safety
A decent percentage of pasengers leave their phones on during flights – it’s proof that phones out in the passenger section don’t really impact the flyability of the plane, especially larger ones, and that we’ll never get everyone to switch off. This is not the purpose of the exercise, and many people have realised that there are patches of cellular access on many domestic routes.
Why this matters
Passengers that leave their phones on now risk data being transferred and calls arriving while they are otherwise sitting in their pocket or suitcase.Welcome to an unexpected bill.
Other passengers could see that their phone was working and then start surfing away, thinking that $20 per MB sounds cheap. It’s not – it is rort.
Vodafone and Telecom will look terrible in this exercise, as they are the ones that have to bill their customers. The customers will complain, the satellite provider will demand their money and Vodafone and Telecom will be stuck in the middle.
The transition moment is important. When does the in-air service take over from ground? Before takeoff? during takeoff? Is there an announcement? If the system was always on then passengers doing last minutes texts and tweets would be unexpectedly stung, and even people outside the plane could be affected.
Above all Air New Zealand has committed to treat us like friends. Friends don’t present each other with bills of this size.
We want to be nice to each other when we fly, and we are increasingly online when we sit down. But these prices are driving us to yak on the phone instead of quietly surfing.
How to solve it
1: Announce the prices each and every flight, and announce them in correct terms – as in $20,000 per Gigabyte.
2: Change the prices to be reasonable. Virgin America charges US$4.95 for all you can eat on flights less than 1.5 hours. I’d pay that. You can even get a $40 monthly pass. I’d pay that too. It’s actually only $19.95 for a 30 day pass for handheld devices, and I’d certainly pay that.
3: Make sure that phones are not automatically roamed onto this system. Customers need some warning before they do anything, whether it’s voice, data or text. The warning should apply to all three configurations so that we are fully informed whether we are using a T-stick, iPhone or regular phone.