Magazine article American Banker

In-Flight Banking in Offing as Airlines Test Pay Phones in Planes

Magazine article American Banker

In-Flight Banking in Offing as Airlines Test Pay Phones in Planes

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- Banking while flying across the continent moved closer to reality this week when five airlines installed 80 pay telephones on 20 commercial jetliners.

Calls made from phone booths aloft before long will cost $7.50 for the first three minutes and $1.25 for each additional minute. But for the first week or so, passengers are allowed to make calls free.

Eventually, it is expected the phones will be able to transmit data from lap computers, which means a user with a home banking account could dial the institution, check his balances, and pay bills from 35,000 feet up. Or a traveler with an on-line brokerage account could buy and sell stock from the clouds.

To place a call to anywhere in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, passengers insert a major credit card into the base unit on the phone. Then, after the call is approved, they can take the cordless phone back to their seats or to other spots in the aircraft to talk for up to 45 minutes.

The handset is slightly smaller than a standard phone, curved, and nearly flat on the inside, which means it cannot be used with acoustic modems. And there is no modular jack for a lap computer to clip into directly.

"That's something down the road," said Sandra K. Goeken, corporate affairs director for Airfone Inc., the company that manufactures the equipment.

"Technically, our transmissions could handle data as easily as voice," she said in a telephone interview from her company's headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill. "The possibilities are endless. But from a corporate standpoint, we haven't done enough work with the airlines or terminal manufacturers to say this is definitely in our game plan or this is not."

The phone service, which uses radio waves and requires two small antennas on the underside of the planes, at first will make only outgoing calls, although incoming calls are technically possible. …

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