Can Virtual Reality Make Air Travel Feel Less Like Air Travel?

The engineers at airline giant Airbus apparently think so.
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The engineers at airline giant Airbus apparently think so.
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What’s the worst thing about air travel? Air travel. Fortunately, our favorite European air travel consortium, Airbus, has signaled plans by way of sketches in a patent filing to make air travel significantly less air travely. Combining the best of 1960’s globular salon hair drying technology with a version of the Oculus Rift, Airbus is proposing a virtual reality helmet to offer bored or annoyed passengers “sensorial isolation.” In addition to sonic and visual isolation, Airbus promises “olfactory deprivation” for flatulent seat mates or—worst-case—Gerard Depardieu.

For those of us not already flying in to Dubai in one of Etihad's 125-square-foot cabins, this is a huge step. The description outlines ways in which all the different features - sound-canceling, sound, blocking visor, transparent visor, and microphone - could be engaged selectively. For sleep, close the opaque visor and pass out; for music, switch to the transparent visor and experience sonic isolation without missing the drinks cart. 

It only took one hundred years of commercial flight, but it seems like airplane technology may have finally reached the point at which nervous fliers and baby-adjacent businessmen no long need to whip up Xanax-Jack Daniels milkshakes to ensure a relaxed flight. And, for everyone else, in-flight entertainment might finally reach mid-1990’s living-room levels of quality. 

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Photos by Yuya Shino / Reuters / Corbis