Virgin Atlantic Testing Google Glass to Aid Airline Passengers

Virgin Atlantic says that Google Glass and similar wearable computing devices can help employees assist passengers throughout all phases of travel, including boarding and in-flight.

Virgin Atlantic will use Google Glass to test how it and similar wearable computing innovations could help the airline assist passengers from their arrival at an airport through boarding and departure, and even with their in-flight experiences.

The Glass experiments at Virgin Atlantic, which begin on Feb. 11, were unveiled by the airline in connection with a recent study that gathered data from some 10,000 airline passengers about the state and future of airline travel. One of the key results of the study, according to the airline, is that many of the surveyed passengers often decried how the experience of flying has lessened over the last several decades and is no longer the exciting, wondrous and luxurious means of travel that it often was in the past.

That's where the idea to test Google Glass and similar devices came into play.

"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," Dave Bulman, the director of IT for Virgin Atlantic, said in a statement. "By being the first in the industry to test how Google Glass and other wearable technology can improve customer experience, we are upholding Virgin Atlantic's long tradition of shaking things up and putting innovation at the heart of the flying experience."

The airline's six-week-long Google Glass pilot project will be visible to passengers as they arrive at London Heathrow airport starting Feb. 11, according to the airline. "Concierge staff in the airline's Upper Class Wing will be using Google Glass and other wearable technology to deliver the industry's most high tech and personalized customer service yet."

Virgin's Glass initiative is being conducted in partnership with SITA, an airline industry vendor that provides IT and communications services to airlines around the world.

Together, Virgin Atlantic and SITA will test how devices such as Google Glass can be integrated to enhance customers' travel experiences and improve efficiency for air carriers, according to the companies.

Using Glass, Upper Class passengers will be able to be greeted by name at the airport by Virgin personnel who will be wearing Glass devices that they can use to check their passengers in for their flights, according to Virgin. Airline personnel will also be able to update the incoming passengers about their latest flight information and weather details, as well as about local events at their destinations. In addition, Virgin personnel will be able to translate any foreign language information needed by their passengers using Glass.

As such technologies continue to be refined in the future, airline personnel could eventually even gain the ability to determine their passengers' dietary and refreshment preferences by using Google Glass or other devices to access their records.

After the pilot testing is completed, the airline will review the experiment to see if it is something it would like to expand in the future, the airline stated.

"We continue to look ahead and research innovations that customers might only dream of today," said Bulman. "The whole industry needs to listen to what these passengers are calling for, and keep innovating to bring a return to the golden age of air travel. Flying should be a pleasure not a chore."

The Virgin Atlantic study found that 42 percent of travelers worldwide reported that flying is less glamorous than it used to be, according to the airline. "When asked what would improve their experience of flying in the future, 55 percent said that Wi-Fi on board would be the most appealing aspect, second only to bigger windows and more space on board (60 percent)."