If the flight attendant at the check-in desk already knows your name and what type of food you enjoy before you even open your mouth, don’t be alarmed.
Virgin Atlantic (owned by Richard Branson's privately held Virgin Group and Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL)) announced this week that its passengers would be among the first in the world to experience “the benefits of Google Glass” as they arrive at London Heathrow airport, where the carrier began a six-week pilot program Tuesday. It said concierge staff in the airline’s Upper Class Wing would harness the wearable technology to deliver “the most high-tech and personalized customer service” in the industry.
“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,” Virgin Atlantic’s director of IT, Dave Bulman, explained. “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.”
Virgin Atlantic rolled out the pilot program at the same time it released the results of a major study of 10,000 airline passengers from across the world focusing on the future of air travel. The study revealed that the more the number of air travelers skyrockets, the worse they rate their experience.
Bulman said this proved that the industry as a whole needed to wake up, listen to what passengers are calling for and keep innovating “to bring a return to the golden age of air travel.”
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“Flying should be a pleasure, not a chore,” he noted. For Virgin Atlantic, Google Glass is the remedy.
The carrier teamed up with air-transport specialist SITA to test how Web-connected specs -- which flash data onto a small screen in front of the retina -- could best be used to enhance a customers’ travel experience and improve efficiency.
In Heathrow’s T3 terminal, for example, a purpose-built dispatch app built by SITA, which is integrated with the Virgin Atlantic passenger service system, pushes individual passenger information directly to the assigned concierge’s smart glasses the moment the passenger arrives at the Upper Class Wing. Thus staff wearing Google Glass can now inform Britain’s moneyed crème de la crème of their latest flight information, weather and local events at their destination, and even translate any foreign-language information.
In the future, Virgin Atlantic said the technology could inform staff of a passengers’ dietary and refreshment preferences or other personalized information to provide optimum customer service. The carrier will evaluate this and other considerations over the six-week pilot scheme ahead of a potential wider rollout.
There’s no word on whether Virgin Atlantic plans to expand the Google Glass scheme to economy passengers in the future. For now, they still have to wait for airline employees to type information into a computer.
On the other side of the check-in desk, experts say Google Glass could help passengers better navigate airports, search for taxi or train fares and find local tourist information. The device is still in the testing phase -- particularly for its potential use by doctors and teachers -- but Google is expected to make the wearable technology available to the public sometime this year.