It wasn’t that long ago that talk of using virtual reality headsets on long-haul flights was pure speculation. Now it’s about to become, well, reality—a prospect that would make Best Buy’s lawyers gasp. Australia’s national airline Qantas recently announced it would begin a three-month trial with Samsung's Gear VR headsets on select flights.
During the trial, Qantas will offer the Gear VR to travelers in its first-class cabins on select A380 aircraft, as well as the airline’s International First lounges in Melbourne and Sydney.
Why this matters: Qantas is not yet ready to roll out a large-scale program with VR headsets. Yet the airline’s embrace of Samsung’s Gear VR suggests virtual reality is closer to becoming a commonly used technology. The magic combination of low-cost components and advanced computing power are finally giving life to virtual reality’s promise. And based on its plans, Qantas has little interest in using VR as a gaming option on its flights.
Experience it before you get there
Qantas plans to use Samsung's Gear VR for a variety of features, including virtual tours of “sights and delights of network destinations.” We’ve already seen experiments with virtual reality in tourism at pop-up kiosks and conferences. But putting this kind of tool on an airplane opens up possibilities. On a trip to the Pacific Northwest, for example, you could experience whale watching on a VR headset and then decide whether or not to book a trip while still in the air.
Qantas’ initial offerings don’t appear to be quite that integrated, offering more of a “sights and sounds” promotional experience instead.
Beyond tourism, Qantas also plans to use Samsung Gear VR to advertise its own products while in-flight, as well as offer Blockbuster movies in an immersive format.