Google Glass – the Virgin view, but what’s the bigger picture?

Recent events have not exactly painted a rosy future for Google Glass with one woman attacked in a bar for wearing the device and another handed a citation for driving while watching television via the headset.

Some mainstream media have even reported a complete ban on the devices at haunts frequented by the technorati.

Against this backdrop, Virgin Atlantic Airways announced its Google Glass and Sony Smartwatch pilot six weeks ago. It could have resulted at best in the odd technology glitch, at worst a complete customer backlash.

The simple idea, run in conjunction with airline technology specialist SITA at London Heathrow Airport, was meant to test customer perceptions of the device.

The test bed was Upper Class passengers whose information is pushed to the Google Glass headset wearer so that as the passenger arrives, the agent is notified and sent ‘at a glance information’ to speed up the check-in process and hopefully, speed passengers on their way to the lounge.

Prior to the pilot, the existing number plate recognition system would relay the information which would then be printed and Virgin Atlantic customer service agents would work from the printouts.

In addition to making the process more paperless, staff have been able to cut out the radio as agents confirm via the device that they are accepting (dealing with) the job as it comes in.

google glass screen 3

google glass screen

google glass screen 2

To put the pilot into action, SITA Lab worked with Virgin Atlantic’s innovation group on an API to feed the information including passenger name, flight details, gate number, how many bags and where the car is taking them at the destination, from the airline’s systems to the headset.

The trial involved four staff trained on the Sony Smartwatch as well as Google Glass handling between 80 to 100 jobs a day.

Virgin Atlantic global customer systems manager, airport strategic development, Ian Baigent-Scales says:

“We wanted to test customer perceptions of Glass because it is quite in your face and because it is expensive.

“There has been incredible feedback from customers and no negative comments. Everyone is really intrigued, some people don’t realise it is Google Glass and some do a double take.

“If they are looking quizzical, the staff explain what they are doing, what the information is and give them the background.”

One key learning has been that despite a belief of the headsets being more intrusive to the customer relationship, the smartwatches have proved more of challenge with agents having to break contact with the customer to check the devices.


Another interesting element was, as the trial went along, staff requested further information be added such as what seat changes were available. Some agents also used built-in capabilities such as search and phone to enhance the customer experience.

google glass despatch

The plan is now to take learnings from the trial and try and put a business case forward as well as consider how else the technology might be used to deliver information in other areas.  Baigent-Scales says:

“It has worked here because we have a lot of information to cover off with the passengers in Upper Class. We have learnt that this is technology we can use and not just technology looking for a home.”

And, it seems the project may even have Google’s approval with a usability expert sent along to the airline’s Upper Class area to see the device in action.

According to SITA Lab lead engineer Kevin O’Sullivan, the only tech glitch was that bluetooth was originally used to connect to the device but had to be substituted with a wifi hotspot to ensure the alerts got through in real-time.

O’Sullivan says SITA will now take stock of what it has learnt:

“Last year we were trialling this indoors, this year we’re looking to do various field tests and this is one of them.

“There’s a new Samsung watch coming out so wearable will be a big project for the lab for the rest of the year. This is a big year in terms of consumer awareness and getting used to the notion of wearable technology.”

Meanwhile, according to the airline’s IT Innovation Manager Tim Graham, Virgin Atlantic will continue to experiment with ways to make the process more personal and make passengers feel less like a number.

“For us it’s more about how we can make the customer journey a little bit more personalised. It’s little bits of information about you and where you are going that staff can build into the conversation and using technology to help in that personalisation of travel is quite important to us.

“If there are little bits and pieces we can use it for that inject a little bit of magic, a wow factor for the passenger, it is great.”

Beacons is one area it is already working on with SITA and placing them in strategic positions around the customer journey to see where it has most impact – whether retail, service or both.

The carrier also has plans for on-board wifi services for crew and passengers when it takes delivery of the Dreamliner in September.

Here’s a clip of customer service agent Ken Charles greeting a passenger using Glass:

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About the Writer :: Linda Fox

Linda Fox is managing editor for Tnooz. For the past decade years she has worked as a freelance journalist across a range of B2B titles including Travolution, ABTA Magazine, Travelmole and the Business Travel Magazine.

In this time she has also undertaken corporate projects for a number of high profile travel technology, travel management and research companies.

Prior to her freelance career she covered hotels and technology news for Travel Trade Gazette for seven years. Linda joined TTG from Caterer & Hotelkeeper where she worked on the features desk for more than five years.



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  1. Pedro

    Do not miss other aviation uses. This is just the beginning.


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