First-Class Tech At Virgin-Atlantic

June 5, 2014
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Above image: Prometheus72

While sightings of Smartwatches and Google Glasses may still be rare on the street, that old aristocratic smarty-pants, Sir Richard Branson, is clued in to the fast-moving tech universe enough to figure out the gimmicky snob-value, not to mention the marketing possibilities, of making the availability of such devices exclusive to his customers.

First-Class Tech At Virgin-Atlantic
Image: stocklight /

I should add that this was supposed to be top secret; a ploy that was going to be unleashed on the world in the early summer via the Saatchi & Saatchi PR machine. Unfortunately, someone at SITA, who are the acknowledged world leaders in air transportation IT work and Virgin-Atlantic’s partner thus far, let the cat out of the bag and put out a press release on Tuesday, May 27, 2014. It was either an accidental error, or else they’re teasing the media with just enough catnip to make it sit up and take notice.

At any rate, having run a number of successful tests in January, Virgin will use Google Glass and Sony’s SmartWatch 2 as just part of their plans to dominate customer service for its first-class passengers at London Heathrow airport. Wealthy passengers will first step out of their chauffeured limousine at Heathrow’s T3 terminal to be greeted by name. Already outfitted in the technology, Virgin-Atlantic staff will start the check-in process. At the same time, staff will be able to update passengers on their latest flight information, weather and local events at their destination and translate any foreign language information. Additionally, the technology will pre-prepare Virgin-Atlantic staff for heir passengers’ dietary and refreshment preferences; in other words, anything that provides a better and more personalized service to distinguish VA from its rivals.

Virgin Atlantic’s new customer-care stance replaces an existing process known to insiders as the ‘Upper Class Wing’  according to the Financial Times. With Airline staff now equipped with either Google Glass or a Sony SmartWatch 2, each integrated to both a purpose-built dispatch app built by SITA and the Virgin-Atlantic passenger service system, no customer can be forgotten.  As the dispatch app manages every allocated task and concierge assignment, it messages each individual’s passenger information directly to the assigned concierge’s smart glasses or watch just as the passenger arrives at the Upper-Class Wing.

First-Class Tech At Virgin-Atlantic

Common sense says that, in such situations, Murphy’s Law – you know, the one that says anything that can go wrong eventually will – is king, but Virgin-Atlantic’s IT Director, Dave Bulman, puts a different spin on it: “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.  Our wearable technology pilot with SITA makes us the first in the industry to test how Google Glass and other wearable technology can improve the customer experience. We are upholding Virgin-Atlantic’s long tradition of shaking things up and putting innovation at the heart of the flying experience,” he told the Financial Times.

In the realm of CYA, Bulman did point out that the implementation of Google Glass and Sony’s SmartWatch 2 is only a six-week pilot for now, as Virgin seeks to replace traditional methods of customer service. In the usual exchange of messages after the announcement, a number of media sources asked if the devices might one day be used for customers without upper class tickets at some point. If it works out for the upper class, Bulman said, it’s possible Virgin-Atlantic will adopt the new technology for all its passengers

As you may know from reading already, because of its expensive retail price of $1,500 and a need for possible customers to be formally invited by Google, Google Glass has largely been a tool for techies until now. A pretty savvy operator, Mr. Branson may have hit upon something that may change the business forever.

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  1. Sure beats Cattle class on Ryanair

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