Forget Google Glass: If Virgin wants "flying to be a pleasure" it should change how it treats passengers

By Adam L. Penenberg , written on February 12, 2014

From The News Desk

Virgin Atlantic concierges in the Upper Class lounge at London's Heathrow Airport are testing out Google Glass for checking in upper crust passengers. I can just imagine Virgin staff pirouetting their heads like dancers in an avant-garde troupe, whispering sweet nothings to themselves while watching YouTube videos of cats.

With Google Glass, airline staff could, according to USA Today, relay the latest flight information and the weather, provide foreign language translations, and one day keep a log of passengers' favorite foods and drinks. In other words, Google Glass does what an iPhone, iPad, laptop, and PC can do -- only it looks dweeby.

Of course, this being a gimmick, you knew the inevitable quote from Virgin would claim this is all for passengers' benefit.

Here's Dave Bulman, Virgin's director of information technology:

We continue to look ahead and research innovations that customers might only dream of today. The whole industry needs to listen to what these passengers are calling for, and keep innovating to bring a return to the golden age of air travel. Flying should be a pleasure, not a chore.
That's fine for one Virgin -- that is Virgin Atlantic. But if another Virgin -- Virgin America -- would like feedback on making flying a pleasure, not a chore, here's what one passenger -- me -- would want. Now, I realize that Virgin America, which I have flown several times to San Francisco, is a separate company from Virgin Atlantic -- Richard Branson is a majority stakeholder in Virgin Atlantic but holds a minority stake in Virgin America. And perhaps it's unfair of me to lump them together. Still I hope Richard Branson might extend some upgrades to Virgin Atlantic's poor step brother airline and push for an upgrade that high tech glasses won't help.

To start, I just want decent wifi. I've given up on GoGo Inflight, which is pokier than an old Hayes 2800 baud dial-up modem over a pre-fiber optic phone line. After paying the extortion-level fees, I can rarely access the Internet while on a Virgin Air flight. I've complained to GoGo, which sent me a coupon for a future flight. Then I still couldn't get online.

While comedian Louis CK believes "everything is amazing now, and nobody's happy" and "you can't complain about something that you didn't even know existed 30 seconds ago," if a company charges $14 per flight or $39.95 a month the service should work.

Also, stop cramming coach passengers into hen-sized cages. It makes flying a claustrophobic experience, forcing us to contort our bodies just to keep the blood flowing. All the Google Glasses in the world won't help with that.

Third, recycling the air on a plane carrying 200 people, with germs and microbes spewing out of their mouths, probably causes more sickness than 100 episodes of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

I could go on about the limited and drab food offerings and the awful pre-flight safety video done up as faux hip-hop, which was annoying on the first view. But you get the point.

Google Glass, despite such pretensions, won't make flying more palatable. Only a fundamental shift in the way Virgin America and other airlines treat passengers can do that.