N6376M
Posts: 2310
Joined: Tue Aug 12, 2003 12:54 am

How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 5:44 am

In 15 years of making business trips once every week or so, I've only seen the GTE airphone used once. I've asked around and my colleagues report similar experiences.

Question - do these things even cover their costs? Why don't the owners lower the cost so that more people would use them. I've got to figure that if the rate was $0.50/minute, they'd be used almost none stop. As long as the marginal cost of conducting the call was covered by the per minute fee, the owner would be better off then they are today.

Any comments, thoughts, observations. Maybe the FA could offer their observations on the usage rates of these devices. I've got to believe that the total weight of these installations is quite significant and airlines would love to get them off.

-76M
 
PiedmontGirl
Posts: 1112
Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2003 2:39 am

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 5:58 am

Those airphones are used very rarely. They're just so expensive that it has to be a for real necessity for someone to make a call with one of them.

I think it was AA (I'm not sure about this) that said the airphone usage amounted to three calls per day. Not three per aircraft. Three total for the entire fleet and AA is a huge airline.
 
FA4UA
Posts: 777
Joined: Sat Nov 22, 2003 6:26 pm

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 8:10 am

I've seen the Airphones used a lot on UA! I've even had so many people using them that all outbound lines were occupied causing people to essentially "wait their turn"! (Internationally and Domestic!)

One flight I worked (ORD-Narita) a business class passenger on the upper deck of the 744 had his laptop connected from the conclusion of the first service until about two hours out of Narita. I'm not overstating either, we talked a lot during the flight and he needed me to show him how to connect his laptop. That phone bill must have been enormous especially since the rates change when we get out over international waters!

I'm almost certain UA has a deal with Verizon that our 1k and Premiere fliers can get volume discounts. I know I get a discount too as an employee. It's not as cheap as a cell phone but if you need to make a call the option is there! Also if we're talking about business travellers, a fifty dollar phone call to help seal a multi million dollar deal is a drop in the bucket!

Now UA has completed JetConnect, the usage rates are going way up! JetConnect is a low-band connection for laptop users to check email and IM people. There are a few other services too, but the cool thing is it's a flat fee for the flight.

FA 4 UA
The debate continues... Starwood or Hyatt... which is better
 
LMP737
Posts: 4859
Joined: Wed May 08, 2002 4:06 pm

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 9:09 am

In all the years I've been flying I have used an airphone once myself. That call lasted about ten seconds. AA looked at the usage of airphones on it's planes and realized it was more cost effective to disable them on all their aircraft except for the 767 and 777.
Never take financial advice from co-workers.
 
AA777MIA
Posts: 671
Joined: Thu Aug 07, 2003 10:30 am

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 9:15 am

Yes, AA did do a study and is in the process of removing them from all aircraft with the exception of the B777 and B767, which are satellite equipped.
 
PiedmontGirl
Posts: 1112
Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2003 2:39 am

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 9:18 am

Thank you, AA777MIA. I thought it was AA, just not sure since it had been a while since I read it.
 
ssides
Posts: 3248
Joined: Fri Feb 09, 2001 12:57 am

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 9:29 am

Why don't the owners lower the cost so that more people would use them. I've got to figure that if the rate was $0.50/minute, they'd be used almost none stop.

These phones are very expensive to operate and maintain. All use a form of satellite technology, but only longhaul international flights are true "Satellite phones" like AA offers on its transatlantic and transpacific services (and these cost something like $10/minute). The traditional airfone is an old, expensive technology.

The primary reason for the expense is that the planes are so high in the air and moving at such a fast speed. They can traverse several "cells" of telecom territory in a few seconds, creating the need for a different routing of the call. This is why they are so expensive. Given that expense, the airlines and phone companies are going to make damn sure the costs are covered by the price of the call. That's why they cost so much.

The new JetConnect technology, however, is much better and I think you will see the prices fall for it in the future. It offers much more than the traditional airfone service, and is cheaper overall. Look for it to come to more airlines in the future once they get the kinks ironed out.
"Lose" is not spelled with two o's!!!!
 
N6376M
Posts: 2310
Joined: Tue Aug 12, 2003 12:54 am

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 11:05 pm

FA4UA,

What would you consider "a lot"? 1 x per flight ; 2 x per flight; etc. . .

I'm not talking about any specific circumstances - just overall averages. Do the usage rates vary greatly depending on whether the flight is domestic or international?

Thanks,

-76M
 
AAnalyst
Posts: 127
Joined: Sun Nov 30, 2003 6:55 am

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 11:11 pm

PiedmontGirl is correct, at the time that AA discontinued phone service on all but the 777 and 767 the average number of calls a day was in the single digits, and that was for the entire fleet.

In addition to the lack of use, the cost of maintaining the phones was fairly high, so it made no sense to keep them. Even on the 767 and 777 these days you'll rarely see the phones in use.

I think cell phones have played a big part in this. Now, you can talk all the way up to the door closing, and on most airlines you can start talking immediately after landing.

Besides, who here was really interested in paying a $5 connection fee, and then at least $2.50 a minute? And that's domestic. If you want to call Aunt Martha from somewhere over the Atlantic get ready to pass a credit check....
Knowledge is Power. Power Corrupts. - Study Hard, Be Evil
 
UAL747
Posts: 6725
Joined: Mon Dec 13, 1999 5:42 am

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 11:23 pm

I've used an airphone once. AA71 777-200 DFW-FRA, we diverted to Glasgow, and had a 4 hour wait. Were not allowed to leave the plane, so I called on the airphone. Even from the ground the connection was TERRIBLE and most times the call wouldn't even go through.

My question is, if it's so technologically difficult to make a call from a moving plane at high altitudes, then why were all those people on 9/11 able to make phone calls to loved ones on a simple cell phone?

UAL747
"Bangkok Tower, United 890 Heavy. Bangkok Tower, United 890 Heavy.....Okay, fine, we'll just turn 190 and Visual Our Way
 
ssides
Posts: 3248
Joined: Fri Feb 09, 2001 12:57 am

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 11:26 pm

The people on 9/11 planes were flying relatively low, especially those that hit the WTC and the Pentagon. It is believed that some of the aircraft were damaged before crashing, because the hijackers were flying at relatively high speeds at low altitudes, hence they were flying through much denser air.
"Lose" is not spelled with two o's!!!!
 
N6376M
Posts: 2310
Joined: Tue Aug 12, 2003 12:54 am

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Fri Dec 05, 2003 11:33 pm

What really confuses me is why the airlines would keep carrying them if the use was so low. The systems have to have some notable weight to them. I'd imagine that on a 767 we're probably talking about at least 2000 lbs and maybe much more.

-76M
 
Skydrol
Posts: 1053
Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2003 12:01 pm

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Sat Dec 06, 2003 11:37 am

Have to agree with UAL747, the times I've used the airphone (over the continental US), the reception was so poor that it took several attempts to get a connection established and then I basically had to shout and have the other party yell just to understand each other over the static. All that just to inform of a two hour flight delay for arrival time! I guess their billing process didn't work well either since I never saw the charge on the credit card.

First and last time for me, unless they dramatically improve the system.


LD4
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kanebear
Posts: 852
Joined: Tue May 28, 2002 12:06 am

RE: How Often Are Airphones Used

Sat Dec 06, 2003 12:08 pm

I used to use the AT&T service on WN and AA quite often before cellphone usage was liberalized. OTOH I've only used the INMARSAT service once. I was on my way to TPE (via HNL and GUM) for a weekend mileage run and hadn't told the wife where I was going... I got a case of the guilts and called her from HNL to clue her in. We were 45 minutes into arguing when boarding was called and she was so mad I figured by the time I could call her again in 7 hours the house would be bare and she'd be gone. Big grin So... we spent about 45 minutes talking until she calmed down... I figured the bill would be HUGE but amazingly enough I was only billed about $65.. I had thought it'd be closer to $600!! It HAD to have been a mistake. The quality was typical for INMARSAT... choppy and very 'robotic' but good enough to understand what was said. If you didn't know who you were talking to it'd be almost impossible to recognize a voice over the connection. If you've ever heard an audio-only news report where the reporter sounded like a robot that was either INMARSAT or Iridium (they sound similar).

BTW, airborne cellular doesn't HAVE to be expensive. HTTP://www.aircell.com is a reasonably priced service.

Somewhat off topic question... does any air carrier allow in-flight Iridium usage?

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