Even Flight Attendants Are Going Virtual

Airlines embrace the metaverse

  • Airlines are jumping onto the metaverse bandwagon with virtual flight attendants. 
  • Qatar Airways has launched a virtual reality experience, which users can access via the company’s website. 
  • Boeing even wants to build real planes in the metaverse.
Rear View of Air Stewardess Explaining Aeroplane Safety to Passengers

James Lauritz / Getty Images

Flight attendants could soon serve you pretzels in the metaverse. 

Qatar Airways has launched a virtual reality experience, which users can access via the company’s website. The system includes a virtual cabin crew that can answer questions about the flight. It’s part of a growing movement to offer virtual travel and assistants in the metaverse, a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection.

"The content delivered by the virtual helper can be succinct and exact," Robb Hecht, a professor of marketing at Baruch College in New York City, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Virtual helpers can also make a customer feel addressed in a personalized manner, this is because the virtual helper may have access to data about the customer such as preferences, past purchases, and future goals."

The Sky’s the Limit

Qatar Airways claims to be the first airline to introduce a virtual cabin crew offering a digital interactive customer experience. You can now virtually tour and navigate the check-in area at Hamad International Airport (HIA) and the cabin interior of the carrier’s planes by visiting the company’s website

"With physical boundaries beginning to be challenged by the metaverse on an increasingly larger scale, it is exciting to embrace a technology that enables all travel enthusiasts to enjoy a unique immersive experience of our award-winning products and services," Qatar Airways Group chief executive Akbar Al Baker said in the news release.

The experience was developed using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, a real-time 3D creation tool, and MetaHuman Creator, a cloud-based app for creating high-fidelity digital humans. The virtual cabin crew includes a 3D human model named ‘Sama,’ whose name is of Arabic origin and translates to ‘sky.’ ‘Sama’ presents to users the features in both the business and economy class cabins. 

While this may seem brand new, elements of virtual flight attendants already exist, pointed out Yann Toullec, CEO of the metaverse company Univers, in an email interview. Consider safety protocol during flight takeoff. Many airlines have removed the "human" demonstration in favor of descriptive videos synced with voiceovers. Passengers receive full safety instructions from the virtual assistant while the human flight attendants double-check luggage compartments, seat belts, and seat backs.

"In the near future, we likely see more inflight digital food and drink ordering, or even virtual assistants for anxiety and Q&A," Toullec said.

Fly the Virtual Skies

Qatar isn’t the only airline trying to jump onto the metaverse bandwagon. Emirates plans to launch its own range of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a form of digital artwork stored on a blockchain that holders can sell and trade.

Earlier this month, Spanish airline Air Europa said it would sell the world's first NFT flight ticket series, or "NFTickets." With purchase, owners will receive access to a special Air Europa flight to Miami Beach, as well as perks and events ahead of an art show. 

"Innovation is in our DNA, we have been pioneers in applying new technologies within our industry, and it can not be different with NFTs, which could be the next step in the travel industry," said Bernardo Botella, Global Sales Director at Air Europa in the news release. "We are proud to be the first airline to adopt blockchain technology for inventory management and distribution. We're excited to see where this could take travel as a whole and how it could improve customer experience."

Silhouette of a flight attendant woman with suitcase at sunset in a parking lot

MarioGuti / Getty Images

Last year, Emirates became the first airline to launch its own VR app on the Oculus store, offering users interactive cabin interior experiences onboard Emirates’ A380 aircraft and Boeing 777-300ER planes. For instance, users can "pick up" items from the Onboard Lounge, "turn on" the Shower in the Shower Spa or close the private suite doors behind them. They can even explore the cockpit.

Boeing even wants to build planes in the metaverse. The company says it plans to use 3D engineering designs that will be twinned with robots that speak to each other, while mechanics around the world will pitch in through virtual reality HoloLens headsets made by Microsoft.

Hecht predicts that soon, customers will be able to fly while interacting with the airline entirely through virtual reality, allowing users "to conduct life virtually and have all interactions in the depths of an anonymous universe and actually be personalized wherever the user is or goes."

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