In short: Alaska Airlines has now announced it’s bringing VR to select flights and customers through a partnership with AlloSky who will be providing the end-to-end VR experience. Alaska Airlines will be trialing the service on two of its US domestic routes, Seattle-Boston and Boston-San Diego, and the service will only be available to passengers travelling in the first class cabin, offering those travelers a private Full HD cinema screen viewing experience.
Background: Flying has become more of an everyday occurrence for passengers, and in recent years airlines have turned to technology to improve the overall experience and also add value to its own product. While the in-flight entertainment (IFE) is the most obvious example of this, other technologies such as in-flight Wi-Fi and in-seat USB charge points have started to make their impact felt. VR is the latest attempt by airlines to further bring technology to the cabin by offering passengers the opportunity to escape the confines of an aircraft and venture into a more immersive world. Unlike typical IFE systems which are usually highly customized to the airline, Alaska Airlines is drawing on the help and know-how of SkyLight and its AlloSky division which already offers a packaged end-to-end solution that not only includes Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform-powered hardware and servicing of the hardware, but also the software stack and content licensed from some of the big movie houses. For example, this solution is expected to offer 2D, 3D and 180-degree content, including titles such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Ready Player One, and Ferdinand.
Impact: While there is the industry expectation new entertainment options like VR will become more commonplace during flights in the future, this is still some time away from becoming an everyday reality. Alaska Airlines is only trialing the service at the moment, and only on very select routes. There is also the issue of class as it’s understood this is designed for those travelling at the front of the aircraft as a means to further distinguish the heightened service and amenities afforded to first class passengers. Although AlloSky has already been trialing the technology in business class in other countries, leading to the likelihood passengers travelling in the middle of the airplane will also start to see increased availability in due course. At present, however, while the end goal will be to also offer a similar product and experience to economy passengers, there is currently no information on when that's likely to happen – on a trial basis or otherwise. As a result the impact of this latest announcement is going to be minimally felt for the time being, with only select passengers getting to experience what’s like to fly in their own private movie theater.