An increasing number of airlines are turning to virtual reality (VR) to entertain passengers, particularly during long haul flights. The immersive nature of VR allows those long, often uncomfortable hours to pass quickly, but some research has found that wearing a VR headset in flight might come with its own risks.
The absorbing nature of VR is a large part of its appeal, but it is also what causes it to be a potential danger, according to recent research carried out by Dutch aerospace research centre NLR.
NLR conducted research at the cabin simulator at KLM’s base in Amsterdam, with 40 KLM employees volunteering to act as passengers during a two-day evaluation, which involved three flight scenarios lasting roughly 10-20 mins each.
The three scenarios involved a calm flight, some turbulence and a rapid decompression. Two-thirds of the participants were given VR headsets, which the other volunteers viewed the same content on a smartphone.
The NLR research found that flight attendents had more trouble establishing contact with participants wearing VR headsets during the calm scenario, though otherwise the test was unremarkable.
During the decompression trial, it was reported that some VR heatset users remaining unaware of the emergency, being utterly absorbed in the VR scenario, despite the simulated shaking of the cabin, loud noise, flashing emergency lights and the oxygen masks being deployed. Crucially, they also didn’t hear cabin crew calling out vital safety instructions.
The trial is still undergoing analysis, and full results are due to be published some time later in the month. NLR commented: “The effect that researchers suspected beforehand was apparent during the test, namely that wearing a VR headset affects communication between passengers and crew,” adding that using VR headsets, “might affect the level of onboard service, and there is potentially also a safety risk.”
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