Virtual Reality Positioning to be the Next Tool of Escape at 30,000 Feet
Airplane Passengers Had a Taste of VR
Lost in reverie at 30,000 feet used to involve a little dose of drug or downing a couple mini bottles of wine, but with the increasing use of virtual reality, don’t be surprised if you see more and more passengers escaping to their own digital la-la lands.
“It’s all a matter of cost,” says Fred Lazar, an aviation analyst and professor at the Schulich School of Business. With VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive retailing at $599 and $799 respectively, they’re still not affordable to common users. Once those prices come down, Lazar suspects airlines will be affected by the consumer market.
In March, Australia’s national carrier Qantas launched a trial run of offering VR headsets for first class passengers.
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“Once the cost is low enough that you can charge a price where a certain number of passengers will pick up on it and you have content, then you’re going to get it in operation especially on the long-haul flights,” says Lazar. “Instead of little screens… iPads on planes, you’ll have people being able to pay a certain amount for various sets of virtual reality equipment and then have access to different types of programming.”
Lazar believes trial runs, like Qantas’, will begin with first and business class passengers, and afterward, becoming available to those in second class for a fee.
He adds that “They will find the price point that optimizes the revenues per flight”.
No promise the gimmick will last
However, Michael Planey, a strategic airline consultant, thinks differently, that he is not convinced VR is the way of the future for in-flight escapism.
“It’s a fad, it’s the next 4K or 3D TV in that it gets a lot of pop in the consumer market right now but the reality of it in terms of economics is it just isn’t there,” he says.
Planey opines that it’s likely a publicity stunt for brands like Qantas.
“It generates a lot of positive publicity (continuing) the message that they are leading-edge tech companies, staying abreast of what the latest and greatest is for their consumers and passengers in flight,” says Planey. “But over the next four to five years, you really aren’t going to see this become widely implemented.”
Planey, however, foresees a growth for VR tech in the premium airport lounges.
“You can use those devices to up-sell people on economy to business or first class by showing them the environment they could be in,” says Planey, adding that “For a flight to Vancouver, you can sit back in the lounge and experience a bit of what it would be like to go out on a whale watching tour.”
Please turn your devices to airplane mode…
Meanwhile, concerning the lay down rule, none of the two aviation analysts see much in terms of rule changes apart from the status quo.
“The reality is, there’s no reason for any of those rules, I mean (many of us) have forgotten to turn off our phones during flights and never had any problems,” says Lazar. “Those rules are archaic and I don’t think you’re going to need them with virtual reality equipment onboard a plane – the rules will probably catch up to the technology that’s both on the planes and that people have access to.”