Since most people tend to not fly first class, jetting around in a hulking metal contraption in cramped quarters tends to be its own little hell bubble, often requiring the saving graces of tiny bottles of alcohol. Or Vicodin.
While airlines like Delta and US Airways are looking to strip away the TV screens in the back of seats, some aviation companies are looking into ways to make flying a bit less miserable. A newly surfaced patent filed by Airbus seems to suggest that the European plane manufacturer is at least considering a novel way to entertain anxiety-riddled flyers: virtual reality helmets.
Each helmet is designed to provide customers with “sensorial isolation with regard to the external environment,” Airbus writes in the filing. “This isolation can be more or less pronounced according to the configuration of the helmet and the functionalities which are associated with it.” Each “headrest”–as the company calls them–in theory will allow customers to watch movies, listen to music, play video games, and otherwise shut out the festering petri dish of an airplane cabin around them. Furthermore, the visor-like display can be lifted, in case the customer wants to work on a laptop, or maybe read a book.
How do you control the thing? Virtual navigation is processed with either a physical control pad, or–and this might be the most ambitious part–what Airbus calls a “virtual keyboard” that is operated by sensor-equipped gloves that let you move around in VR.
Now, before you get too excited about your next 22-hour direct flight to Saigon, there are a few things worth remembering. This is just a patent filing, and the technology could very well never make it to your seat. Airbus tells Wired that the patent is mostly to protect its intellectual property, and the company currently has no plans in place to build them. (Sorry!) For one, dozens of added headsets would add weight to an aircraft, which the airline would have to eat in fuel costs. (It’s one of the reasons airlines are considering ditching the backseat TVs.) And you would have to imagine that the software will be buggy, to say nothing of the routine maintenance that such an immersive technological fishbowl would require.
And besides, at the pace VR headsets like the Oculus Rift are improving, even if an airline builds Airbus’s headrests into your chair, the experience will quickly feel outdated, like when your employer gives you a laptop clunker running Windows XP. If you’re really keen on immersing yourself in a bunch of pixels when it’s time to take off, pretty soon, the most elegant solution might be to just bring your own. Just remember to keep your mouth closed.