Innovation is the Marketing » BA high-tech neuro blanket tracks passenger’s emotions

BA Happiness Blanket_a680x439

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Unlike investments in new aircraft, cabin interiors and seats, innovations in services in order to improve the passenger experience do not have to have large financial consequences.

It basically comes down to creative ideas, and the current revolution in social media and personal digital devices allows forward-looking airlines to come up with new services that — even though not all of them will be a great commercial success — will contribute to the airline’s brand by creating buzz and a sense that the airline is trying to improve the experience.

BA’s ‘Happiness Blanket’
In an effort to gain more insights into – as well as promote – its onboard products and services, British Airways has conducted an experiment at 30,000ft to find out more about how passengers sleep and rest in the air, in order to help shape services such as timing of meals, types of films shows and seat positions.

The airline asked passengers located in different cabins to cover themselves under a so-called ‘Happiness Blanket’, which is woven with fibre optics, uses neuro-sensors to measure a person’s brainwaves and ‘meditative state’, and which changes colour – from red to blue – to show when they are at their most relaxed.

Additionally, a special headband – the MyndPlay BrainBand – has been used to measure a person’s meditative state on a scale of one to 100. This is then relayed via Bluetooth to LED lights woven into the blanket.

When the number is low it will turn red or when it is near the 100 mark it will turn blue. As well as detecting brainwave activity, it can also monitor a user’s level of concentration and relaxation.

Behavioral response
British Airways will analyze the data from the blankets to make the in-flight experience better. The color patterns will give an idea to the crew on the behavioral response of the passengers to in-flight services such as the timing of meals, the menu, and the movie options.

Says BA, “We invited seven people on a flight to New York and seated them across World Traveller Plus, Club World through to First, so we could measure the effects of our refinements in all cabins.”

Not surprisingly, flyers’ moods fluctuate the most when using in-flight entertainment or eating. “What we found was that the blankets turned bluer when people were relaxing, such as sleeping, listening to relaxing music, or eating, as that created a feeling of well-being. However, eating cheese for example can often turn the blankets red, as that releases a chemical in the brain which increases brain activity,” a BA spokesperson told Time Magazine, adding that the blankets will not be made available to paying customers.

The airline also released a video (165,000 views so far) about the experiment that shows how initially there are fluctuations as passengers settle in, while there is a noticeable change in passengers’ mood as they enjoy food and drink. The blankets also show the reactions to different types of films and entertainment.

Marketing message
While initially focusing on the technology and the passenger experience using it, the video closes with a clear marketing hook: “Never underestimate the power of a good flight’s sleep,” sparking a debate related to the relative merits of this new invention.

Earlier this year British Airways also released a study that identified seven different emotions when passengers fly: enjoyment, conviviality, belonging, security, control, empowerment and vitality.

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