Air travel just got a whole lot worse! Telecom NZ XT customers were told today that they now have access to in-flight mobile services en-route to selected international destinations around the world. That includes making and receiving calls, SMS and email access.

As if air travel wasn’t impersonal enough, now we will have to listen to phones ringing and people talking loudly all the way there and back. We have barely established mobile phone etiquette in public places who knows what will happen on planes. This could disastrous! I used to dread sitting next to an insurance salesperson on flights, now I’ll be fearful of anybody with a Kiwi accent brandishing a mobile phone.

Telecom NZ has linked with Emirates and Malaysian Airlines to provide roaming services on key flights around the world, including to Australia, Asia, Europe, UK and South America.

Niki Chave, Telecom’s Head of Mobile Roaming, says the new service will be particularly useful to New Zealand business travelers because it enables them to stay connected while in the air.

Smoking used to be the fix of choice for thoughtless people on board flights but we stopped that. Now those addicted to mobile phones will have something to talk about on board, literally, while the rest of us try to sleep or watch movies. How long before we see the first outbreak of ‘air rage’?

I was really hoping that, just like the in-seat phones already provided, the cost would be so prohibitive no-one would bother. I can foresee a rash of ‘bill shock in the air’ stories coming out any day now. However, after looking at the Telecom NZ pricing plan more questions are raised.

Outward calls from the aircraft will be charged at NZ$13 (US$9.30) a minute, but only NZ$1 a minute for inward calls. 140 character outward texts are priced at 80c each. Mobile broadband access is NZ$40 per megabyte.

Not sure who came up with those prices (probably marketing) but it won’t take long for the smart guys to work out that sending an SMS asking someone to call back will save NZ$12 per minute, or maybe that was an error in the press release.

Of course, if the thought horrifies you as much as it does me, you could simply avoid flying those airlines and give New Zealand a wide berth as well!