I am old enough to remember a time when entertainment on an airplane was provided by the airline. A flight attendant would walk down the aisle offering passengers a chance to rent a pair of headphones. The passenger would hand the flight attendant $3 and receive a pair of headphones in a Ziploc bag. (We assume they had been sanitized since the last passenger used them.) The passenger would put them on, plug into a port on the armrest of the seat, and use a dial to select from audio channels to listen to, e.g., country, rock, classical, comedy, etc. At the end of the flight, the passenger would return the headphones to the flight attendant.
Today that seems farfetched since we all have our own smartphones and earbuds. We can view in-flight movies, watch TV, or text our friends using our own devices. For a small fee, we can even stay connected to the internet while in flight. There is no need to rent any hardware from the airlines.
When you think about an airline flight, passengers are a captive audience. They're not going anywhere until the captain announces that they are "free to move about the cabin." They are stuck in their seats. Yes, they can listen to music, watch TV, or use the internet, but they're pretty much stuck in their seats. The physical space is defined for them often based on the price of their tickets, i.e., first class has more leg room than coach. Passengers in coach sometimes get antsy and need to stretch their legs. What if this could be avoided? What if passengers could feel like they're someplace else for the duration of the flight? What if they could become less aware of their physical surroundings? If this were the case, the airlines could pack even more passengers on flights and improve their profit margins as well as help with achieving their sustainability goals.
Welcome virtual reality. Virtual reality is an artificial world consisting of images and sounds created by a computer that is affected by the actions of a person experiencing it. I can see it now:
Virtual reality on an airplane will be provided by the airline. A flight attendant will walk down the aisle offering passengers a chance to rent an Oculus headset. The passenger would hand the flight attendant his credit card for a $20 charge and receive a headset in a Ziploc bag. (We assume it has been sanitized since the last passenger used it.) The passenger would put it on, plug into a port on the armrest of the seat, and use the headset to select from worlds to visit, e.g., the Louvre, Mars, the city they're about to land in, etc. At the end of the flight, the passenger would return the headset to the flight attendant.
It sounds farfetched now, but:
"If someone tells you a story about the 21st Century, and it sounds like science fiction, it might be false. If someone tells you a story about the 21st Century, and it does not sound like science fiction, it is definitely false."
— Yuval Noah Harari
Fantasizing about future air travel is alive in the lab.