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Oprah uses wireless to make a technically forbidden call

May 21, 2009 | 11:50 am

Oprah1
Would you want to hear her talking on the phone on your plane? Credit: adria-richards via Flickr.

Wireless on airplanes is getting its 15 minutes of fame today, when Oprah makes a call on her show to a Virgin America flight attendant who will be on a plane in the air.

There's a catch, though -- and no, it's not that everyone on the flight will get free cars. Oprah is calling the plane using Skype, the voice-over-Internet protocol service that allows you to make calls over a computer. And Aircell, the WiFi provider, doesn't actually allow passengers to use VoIP, including Skype, on any of its flights.

"We made an exception just for Oprah," said Arianne Venuso, an Aircell spokeswoman. Aircell, which is expanding to dozens of American Airlines and Virgin America planes this summer,  works by transmitting a signal from cell towers around the country to small antennas installed on the planes.

Technically, you could make phone calls with the service, and you could easily make VoIP calls over a service such as Skype. But the airlines have all request that VoIP service be blocked, Venuso said.

"The airlines know that their passengers don’t want to hear people talking on the phone," she said.

But what if that person is Oprah?

-- Alana Semuels

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