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Summary:

Virgin Atlantic is looking to make flying fancy again, with the help of some new wearable technology from Google and Sony.

Virgin Atlantic Google Glass
photo: SITA

Feel like flying has lost its luster? Well, what if airline staff could update you with weather information and local events at your travel destination on the fly, or know your dietary and refreshment preferences with just a simple glance? Virgin Atlantic is looking to restore some “sheen” to the air travel experience by testing new wearable tech from Google and Sony.

The pilot program begins Tuesday at London’s Heathrow Airport. Staff will be equipped with either Google Glass or a Sony SmartWatch 2 to help passengers through the check-in process. Employees will be able to update passengers on flight information, weather and local events, though it is possible the wearable tech could be used to update staff with the aforementioned dietary preference information in the future.

Rochester Optical Google Glass frame

This is made possible through a custom-built app from air transport IT company SITA and Virgin Atlantic’s passenger service system. The app pushes passenger information directly to a staff member’s Glass or Smartwatch 2 as passengers arrive at the wing.

In addition to wearables, Virgin is also testing Apple’s iBeacon technology at Heathrow. This could help the airline automatically push updates to the phones of nearby passengers with information such as nearby services, discounts, and updated flight boarding schedules.

You’ll need to buy a first class ticket if you’re expecting Virgin to roll out the digital red carpet, though. Aside from the fact that these services are only being tested in the upper class wing of London Heathrow, Dave Bulman, director of IT for Virgin Atlantic, explains that right now the technology is primarily to restore a sense of glamour to the flying experience: “While it’s fantastic that more people can now fly than ever before, the fact that air travel has become so accessible has led to some of the sheen being lost for many passengers.”

Still, this is an exciting new realm for wearable tech, and I can see how these devices could enhance the flying experience for everyone if they ever manage to trickle down to coach.

Sony SmartWatch 2 trio

  1. >You’ll need to buy a first class ticket if you’re expecting Virgin to roll out the digital red carpet

    Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have a first class. Upper Class is considered to be a business class product. They themselves advertise their Upper Class Suit as having “the longest fully flat bed in business class.”

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