Flight mode: yet another airline trialling onboard virtual reality

Passengers will soon enjoy an immersive experience unrestrained by the size of their screen... but will it last?

By Chris Ashton, May 15 2024
Flight mode: yet another airline trialling onboard virtual reality

Bigger screens, sharper resolution and a broader list of movies have long been pawns in the skyhigh chess game of airlines seeking to outdo rival carriers. However, those bigger, better screens may soon be abandoned altogether in favour of virtual reality.

At least, that’s what Meta – parent company of Facebook and Instagram – may be hoping for following the debut of a new ‘Travel Mode’ for its Meta Quest 2 and 3 virtual reality headsets, and it has its first airline partner already cleared for take off.

Rolling out on select Lufthansa flights through the northern summer, a pilot program will see passengers seated in the new Allegris business class suite provided with a Meta Quest 3 headset for use onboard.

(Allegris made its long-awaited debut earlier this month on an Airbus A350 flight from Munich to Vancouver, with more routes to be added as more aircraft enter the Lufthansa hangar).

Meta says the travel mode has been tuned “to account for the motion of an airplane, so you’ll have a stable and consistent experience in Travel Mode – even when looking out the window.”

With the headset in place, travellers will be able to access movies and TV shows, explore destinations ahead of arrival via a virtual sightseeing preview, unwind with meditation exercises or even play games like chess or Connect Four.

Passengers can access movies, games and more.
Passengers can access movies, games and more.

From a social perspective, an entire cabin using VR isn’t really conducive to communication (particularly for the paired middle seats) and may also make meal time difficult, but there will no doubt be many who appreciate the option.

“The Lufthansa Group has already been using extended reality in training and marketing for some time—and now, during this test case, we are first mover for this innovative entertainment offering” says Björn Becker, Head of Future Intercontinental Experience Lufthansa Group.

Of course, this isn’t the first time VR has been trialled above the clouds.

British Airways and Qantas have also dabbled in the arena, with the Red Roo adding Samsung Gear VR to select A380 flights and first class lounges in 2015, followed by the Qantas VR app in 2016, while British Airways trialled SkyLights VR headsets in 2019.

Qantas partnered with Samsung for a VR trial in 2015.
Qantas partnered with Samsung for a VR trial in 2015.

None of those trials resulted in a wider rollout of the tech, but that hasn’t stopped airlines weighing up the concept… or indeed travellers taking matters into their own hands.

Case in point is a traveller who tested Apple’s Vision Pro wearable on an Emirates flight shortly after the gadget’s launch in February, stretching the 23” content to an immersive experience.

Star Alliance has also embraced the technology on a small scale, adding VR headsets to Star Alliance Gold Lounges in Amsterdam, Paris and Rome. 

VR headsets available for use in Star Alliance lounges.
VR headsets available for use in Star Alliance lounges.

Given the number of airlines that have tried and ultimately abandoned the concept though, it will be interesting to see whether Lufthansa and Meta continue after the trial concludes. 

Lufthansa has not stated exactly how long the headsets will be made available. Regardless, Meta describes this as “a watershed moment for the broader industry”.

23 Sep 2023

Total posts 6

If you are used to using VR headsets it would be fine.  But as anyone who has experienced nausea from an immersive screen experience can tell you this is not what you want on a plane flight.  Giving them out to first time users is, in my opinion, the reason that the other trials were abandoned.

09 Sep 2023

Total posts 6

Zero value for me.  Nauseating.


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