The Whole Plane Can Hear You Now
By Carlo Longino, Tue Mar 02 22:15:00 GMT 2004

Verizon Wireless subscribers can now have calls forwarded from their mobiles to the in-seat phones on a number of US airlines.

The carrier and the Airfone unit of its parent said today that Verizon Wireless users can now "log on" to the in-flight phones with their wireless number, a PIN, and their seat number, and then calls to their mobile will be rerouted to the phone in the airplane.

Calls are charged directly to user's mobile bill, and cost a fraction of standard Airfone rates, which start at $4 per call and $4 per minute. Verizon Wireless subscribers can make and receive calls for 69 cents per minute, or for 10 cents per minute with a $10 monthly fee.

Frequent fliers are constantly grumbling about the fact that they can't use mobile phones on planes, so this could prove a powerful differentiator to attract new high-value business customers for Verizon. The carrier also recently launched a push-to-talk service to rival Nextel's, further evidence of both its targeting business and corporate users as well as its emphasis on developing new voice revenues.

While the discounted rates don't apply to data calls (which are possible with the Airfone system), users can also access the JetConnect data service for $10 per month, rather than $5.99 per flight. JetConnect periodically syncs content between a server on the plane and the Internet, offering users access to news, stocks, sports and weather, but also instant messaging and for an additional charge, e-mail.