Commercial virtual reality has, so far, mostly manifested itself in the living rooms of people with lots of disposable income. But British Airways is hopping on a VR bandwagon that could actually be pretty useful.
The UK airline announced Wednesday that it would start offering VR headsets in a trial capacity to select passengers in flights. The trial lasts through the end of 2019 and has a fairly limited scope; you need to be in first class flying from London Heathrow airport to New York’s JFK.
Anyone who fits the criteria will be able to watch movies or engage in therapeutic VR experiences, per the British Airways press release. As long as you don’t mind being totally unaware of your surroundings, that could be a nice way to spend a trans-Atlantic flight. In fact, that might be the point for those who aren’t big fans of flying.
The tech comes courtesy of SkyLights, a firm that specializes in VR for mass transit. That means they aren’t just going to hand you an Oculus Quest on your next British Airways flight. Instead, it’ll be more specialized hardware, with 1080p resolution in each eye, that can be tethered to an airplane seat, at least according to the SkyLights website.
You can also lie flat on your back while watching things using the SkyLights hardware, which is a nice touch.
British Airways is the first British airline to give in-flight VR a shot, but it’s not the first in general. It’s not even the first to work with SkyLights. Alaska Airlines actually partnered with SkyLights about a year ago for a similar trial run.
VR as in-flight entertainment is an intriguing idea, but one that comes with risks. Flying isn’t the most comfortable experience for a lot of people, so giving them a way to escape while they’re strapped into a seat for several hours could have benefits. Of course, people wearing VR headsets also have reduced awareness of their immediate surroundings, which could make things a bit awkward — or even dangerous in an emergency.
Still, it’s worth a shot. Here’s hoping more airlines try this out and make it accessible to those who aren’t in first class.