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News Cruise
Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to


The deadline was rapidly approaching. The editors back at the magazine were
anxious to receive my latest attempt at literary perfection. I was pounding
away on my laptop while on a flight to the Caribbean, when it suddenly dawned
on me that I needed a piece of information to complete my article. I stared
at the phone on the seatback in front of me, not sure how to use it.

I decided to ask a flight attendant for assistance. She asked me if I had a
10-digit code or if I had an AT & T calling card, which as luck would have it
I did not. She promised to get another flight attendant who could explain to
me how to register for phone service. An hour later I was still waiting for
the proper instruction.

If that breaking news story requires air travel and you need to speak with
someone in your newsroom while in the air, you must register for phone
service in advance.

First, find out what telecommunications company serves the airline you'll be
traveling on. AT&T and Airfone are the two major ground-to-air
communications companies. AT&T serves Alaska, American, Canadian, Northwest
and Southwest Airlines. If you are flying on Aeromexico, Air Canada,
Continental, Delta, Mexicana, Midwest Express, United or US Airways, Airfone
is your carrier.

Regardless of which phone service you use, you'll need to pick a 10-digit
identification and a four-digit password. An area code and telephone number
works perfectly for the 10-digit ID number.

The 10-digit number is not your in-flight phone number, but if you plan to
receive a call from anyone they'll need to know that number. Keep your
password confidential.

Next register your ID number and password with the airline. If your airline
uses Airfone, register before your flight from the ground by calling
800-AIRFONE (800-247-3663). You can also register on the plane by picking up
the handset and dialing 0.

If your flight is served by AT&T, you must register on the plane by picking
up the handset and pressing the FCN key and the number 6. Don't forget to
have your credit card ready when registering and flying, that's where all
your calls will be billed. Once the registration process is complete you are
ready to make those calls.

I want to caution anyone who plans to make or receive a call while in the
air. These calls are expensive. At last check ground-to-air calls cost $3 to
connect and over $3 per minute if the call is place in North American
airspace. If you fly internationally and need to make a call, connection
fees run $5 to $10 and the call itself can cost as much as $10 per minute.

If you plan to receive a call while in the air the same rates apply and are
billed to the person flying not the person on the ground making the call. To
receive a call in the air the caller will need your 10-digit ID code.
Airfone callers will need to dial 800-Airfone (800-247-3663). If the carrier
is AT&T, dial 800-746-4759. In either case the caller will be prompted to
enter the 10-digit ID number. The call will then be transferred to your seat.

When the phone rings in your row, the seat number will be shown. If the call
is for you, simply enter your 4-digit password and credit card number. The
caller's telephone number will appear on the screen. If you decided not to
take the call, your credit card will not be charged.