Virgin Atlantic launches Google Glass and Sony Smartwatch ‘wearable tech’ trial

Virgin Atlantic x Google Glass_680x339

By Raymond Kollau,

Rapid developments in consumer technnology are a driving force behind many of today’s airline product and service innovations. For example, besides equipping their inflight pursers with tablets, airlines such as British Airways, Qatar Airways and Qantas have equipped their lounge concierges with iPads in order to offer a more personalised service to passengers on the ground.

London Heathrow Clubhouse
Now Virgin Atlantic is upping the technology ante and has started a six-week trial, together with airline IT provider SITA, to learn how wearable technology could improve the passenger experience and speed up the check-in process. “2014 is shaping up to be the breakout year for wearable technology, and Virgin Atlantic is the first to bring its vision to reality,” commented Jim Peters, chief technology officer for SITA, on the initiative.

The trial will see Virgin Atlantic concierges at its London Heathrow Clubhouse lounge getting equipped with wearable tech devices in an effort to give employees more information about Business Class passengers arriving at the ‘Upper Class Wing’, the airline’s premium entrance at Heathrow Airport dedicated to Business Class passengers.

Virgin Atlantic staff are equipped with either Google Glass or a Sony SmartWatch 2, which is integrated to both a purpose-built dispatch app built by SITA, and the Virgin Atlantic passenger service system. The dispatch app manages all task allocation and concierge availability. It pushes individual passenger information directly to the assigned concierge’s smart glasses or watch just as the passenger arrives at the Upper Class Wing.

The technology will enable staff to identify a customer, see their flight details and preferences, and then immediately starts the check-in procedure of the passenger. During the escorted process, weather and local events at their destination, including translating any foreign language information, will be given to the passenger until they reach the lounge. The personalised service can also store preferences for future trips, and eventually could tell Virgin Atlantic staff their passengers’ food and drink preferences.

SITA and Virgin Atlantics will also deploy Sony Smartwatches so that supervisors can evaluate staff requirements and availability.

Early days
Virgin and SITA say the results of the pilot will determine whether there is a need for a wider roll-out of the technology, including whether to tap further into the passenger details to manage personal preferences such as dietary, meal and on-board requirements.

Ian Fogg, head of mobile analysis at IHS, said this application of wearable tech could work well. “The screen is like a head up display above the main line of vision, so it’s ideal for this kind of glanceable, quick-reference information,” he told CNBC. However Fogg emphasized that Google Glass technology was so new it attracted an enormous amount of attention and so, “may actually slow down the process as passenger’s will ask lots of questions because it’s so new and novel.”

Google Glass
Still in the testing phase, Google Glass is scheduled to be made available to the public sometime in 2014, and current owners – also called “explorers” – have paid USD 1,500 each to own a pair, and agreed to be part of the testing process.

In 2013, SITA’s R&D group, SITA Lab, began testing and comparing wearable technology devices and developing applications for airlines and airports. A paper and article outlining its findings for the industry are available here and here.


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