British Airways has announced plans to offer virtual reality (VR) headsets for first-class passengers on select flights between London and New York, starting immediately and continuing until the end of this year, according to The Verge. The pilot program will offer passengers conventional 2D and 3D video, as well as 360-degree movies and shows formatted specifically for VR. For passengers with a fear of flying, sound therapy, guided meditations, and other therapeutic programs will be available as well.
The VR headsets will be sourced from SkyLights, a company that has provided the technology for Air France and Sri Lankan Airlines airport lounges. British Airlines has used SkyLights VR at Heathrow Airport to demonstrate the first-class experience to passengers choosing whether to upgrade. Alaska Airlines, Air France, Lufthansa, and Qantas have all experimented with programs to offer VR experiences onboard flights. In 2017, JetBlue distributed cardboard headsets to allow passengers to view 360-degree video content.
At just 250 grams, the SkyLights headsets are lighter and smaller than most popular VR headsets. They’ll offer visual entertainment even for passengers that take advantage of the ability to recline fully in first class. The flight from Heathrow to New York’s JFK typically takes about eight hours.
It’s the first time British Airways will bring the technology on board their aircraft, and it will make them the first UK airline to offer in-flight VR.
“We are always looking at the latest technology to enhance our customers’ experience on the ground and in the air. Virtual reality has the power to revolutionize in-flight entertainment and we’re really excited to trial these new glasses as they should create a unique and memorable journey for our First customers,” according to Sajida Ismail, Head of Inflight Product for British Airways.
The move is one of many ways that VR technology is being explored beyond the world of gaming. Similar to the airline’s move to calm anxious passengers, Stanford Children’s Health and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles are using VR programs to calm younger patients. Filmmakers are testing the limits of what VR can offer, Audi has unveiled a VR dealership experience, and military training simulations are using VR to create a more realistic experience.
It’s not yet clear how or if the airline is planning to expand the program, beyond the Heathrow/JFK flights or beyond first class.