Google Glass and big data taking off at Virgin Atlantic

By Danny Palmer
17 Apr 2014 View Comments

Virgin Atlantic has deemed a recent trial of wearable technology so successful that in future Google Glass and similar devices could be rolled out to staff across the airline.

That's what Dave Bulman, Virgin Atlantic's director of information, told Computing during a recent interview in which he detailed a number of IT innovations designed to improve efficiency and customer service.

Google Glass and Sony smartwatches were trialled by roaming staff in Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class Wing at Heathrow Airport, with the technology enabling passengers to check in without needing to approach a desk. As a result, customers were happier with the service they received before boarding their flight.

"In general people were very positive. They appreciated the fact that someone could have a conversation with them right there and then because before, they were used to having to go to one of the check-in terminals," Bulman explained. "We've got some really rich data on how we improve that customer interaction, plus we've got a lot of happy customers who thought it was a cool interaction."

Staff had the opportunity to trial both types of devices, with Bulman suggesting that generally, Google Glass was preferred over the smartwatch, but overall the technology was so popular "we had to literally pry the devices out their hands at the end of the trial," he joked.

Bulman told Computing that the success of the trial meant the technology will soon be  back in the hands - and on the faces - of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Wing staff. He also revealed that he intends to spread wearable devices to other areas of the airline.

"I think this is something we could use worldwide," Bulman explained. "In terms of the customer service ethos we have, something like that which lets them quickly access information on customers is going to be invaluable," he said. "We'll be looking for a much broader rollout" which will see trials across engineers and other staff in the next two years.

Virgin Atlantic is also looking to technology to improve efficiency in areas away from the check-in area, and the air carrier is already benefiting from analytical tools and big data to make flights as fuel efficient as possible.

"We take all sorts of information about the plane performance, put in weather information, look at how airports are configured, taxiing information, generators," Bulman told Computing, explaining how the information is relayed to engineers and pilots in order to cut emissions.

"That feeds back into pilot training, flight planning and its reaping benefits. We're already seeing fuel savings in the millions, so its cost saving to us and saving the planet by using less fuel," he said.

Computing's full interview with Dave Bulman, Virgin Atlantic's director of information, will be published online after Easter. It will also feature in the next print edition of Computing.

The video below shows how several large UK-based firms are approaching big data.

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