British Airways testing VR in-flight entertainment for first-class passengers this year


British Airways will give its first-class passengers from London’s Heathrow airport to New York’s JFK airport a new way to pass time with VR in-flight entertainment. British Airways said in a statement on Wednesday that through the end of the year, passengers flying in may get to try out virtual reality headsets.

To do this, British Airways is using SkyLights’ specialist VR viewer, AlloSky, and passengers on those flights can watch “films, documentaries, and travel programs in 2D, 3D or 360-degree formats.”

Virtual reality has the power to revolutionize in-flight entertainment,” Sajida Ismail, head of in-flight product for British Airways, said in a statement.

The AlloSky hardware can present 3D views even when the viewer is lying flat and is much closer to a simple phone-based VR headset other than something like Oculus Quest.

AlloSky VR headset

The kit closely resembles a pair of goggles that weigh in at 250g and are powered by Qualcomm offering 1080p resolution per eye, which is below what you might expect of consumer VR headsets.

They support basic three degrees of freedom (3DOF) head-tracking, allowing you to watch a range of 360-degree content along with traditional and 3D films.

British Airways will have options as far as programming is concerned. The VR headsets will offer visual entertainment in 2D, 3D, or 360° formats.

360-degree movies shown on the platform include Baobab’s Asteroids! and Breaking Fourth’s Bro Bots. The airline will also provide more therapeutic programs like guided meditation and sound therapy for those with a fear of flying.

However, the BA first-class passengers should expect around two and a half hours of use from the kit before having to reach for the USB cable. So you might just squeeze one film out of it.

This marks the first time British Airways is bringing virtual reality onto its aircraft’s in-flight entertainment. Although earlier this year, the airline also used SkyLights’ hardware at its Heathrow Terminal 5 ticket counters to show passengers the experience of its first-class travel in an effort to encourage upgrades.

Technically VR technology is mostly associated with games but its real-world applications are much more widespread than that. From the likes of Audi’s VR dealership experience to benefits in healthcare and simulation in military scenarios. And now Airlines are looking to improve the travel experience of passengers with it.

However, British Airways isn’t a pioneer for this sought of thing, a few other airlines have tried offering VR for passengers. Last year, Alaska Airlines also began a partnership with SkyLights to offer in-flight headsets, and Air France, Lufthansa, and Qantas have all tried out virtual reality programs.

Though it’s worth mentioning that BA is the first UK airline to use in-flight VR, considering that it’s a massive name in the air travel biz, in-flight VR could soon become an onboard norm.

“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,” said Sajida Ismail, BA’s Head of Inflight Product.

For the BA 117 flight to complete its journey from London Heathrow to New York JFK, it usually takes around 8 hours. As much as virtual reality can greatly help to pass this time for many, those who suffer from motion sickness might beg to differ.

As for why VR is only in first-class, a BA spokesperson commented: “We are currently evaluating the use of virtual reality as another form of inflight entertainment. During this trial stage, we are keeping our sample sizes small, this lends itself well to our First cabin. As always, we’ll evaluate customer feedback throughout. We hope they will love it.”