What does Santa do after he finishes all that hard work delivering presents on Christmas Eve?
He’ll go up the last chimney, climb into his sleigh, and make his way home to Rovaniemi, Lapland.
That’s the Christmas story Helsinki-based Finnair, “Santa’s official airline,” believes. And they’re backing it up with a series of eight virtual reality (VR) flights to visit Santa once he’s home.
Finnair’s VR flights are open for booking and take place between December 25th and December 30. The cost is €10 per person, or about $12. And all the profits will go to UNICEF’s fund to help children adversely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The immersive 360-degree virtual reality flights are created by Finnish VR studio Zoan and will be viewable on VR headsets, mobile phones, or laptops.
For these special flights, Finnair is giving all travelers virtual business class seats. And from that vantage point, it should be easy to look out the window and take in the starry skies and incredible views of the northern lights.
The VR experience also promises flight soundscapes, festive decorations, and, for those who have been nice and not naughty, a “glimpse of a familiar festive figure sitting in one of the other seats.”
Who could that be??
Once the virtual flight lands in Rovaniemi, Finnair says travelers will be able to virtually cross the Arctic Circle and visit Santa in his cabin.
If you show and he find him sleeping after his long night out, please don’t wake him up.
Here is are some travel tidibts from Alaska Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus
VR on Alaska Airlines
First Class passengers flying Alaska Airlines on two routes – Seattle-Boston and Boston-San Diego – will be able to test out virtual reality headsets for inflight entertaiment.
The Seattle-based carrier will be piloting SkyLights’ new Allosky Cinematic VR with a selection of 2D and 3D movie titles such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Spielberg’s Ready Play One in 3D and the kids title, Ferdinand.
360° films subjects will showcase freediving, classical music and acrobatics.
Virgin Atlantic and Aviation Gin
Virgin Atlantic announces today its that it will begin serving Aviation American Gin in its clubhouses and on its planes. The gin is owned by actor and producer, Ryan Reynolds and batch-made by House Spirtis Distllery in Portland, OR.
To kick off the partnership, on September 30 some passengers on board Virgin Atlantic flights will be served cocktails mixed up by bartenders from some of the world’s super “in” bars, such as The Dead Rabbit in New York and Smugglers Cove in San Francisco.
Here’s a video Sir Richard Branson and Ryan Reynolds made to promote the partnership.
Never really thought of ourselves as a "flutist" but we're hitting some "high notes" with this glassware. ✈️✈️✈️ "Amelia Earhart" 1 oz Aviation American Gin 1 oz Freshly Pressed Lemon Juice 3/4 oz Rhubarb Jam Syrup 2 oz Sparkling Wine pic.twitter.com/nxX87JQUSE
Virtual vacations are starting to compete with the real thing. But Qantas is hoping that by giving you a virtual taste Australia’s offerings, you’ll put get on a plane and go see for yourself.
Qantas first experiments with virtual reality last year, when it offered a virtual reality visit to a couple of Australian destinations on Samsung Gear VR headsets in its First-Class cabin and Lounges.
Now the carrier has released a virtual reality app with 13 videos showcasing a wide variety of Australian landscapes and events, with more promised in the next few weeks.
The app offers two modes: split screen for those who have a compatible headset or Google Cardboard and 2D landscape for viewing directly on a smartphone.
And if you like what you see, you can book flights to these destinations directly from the app.
Here are a few samples.
The first is a helicopter flight offering an aerial view of Uluru, one of the great natural wonders of the world.
Other videos offer a hot air balloon ride of Alice Springs and the Australian outback, a helicopter ride to Hamilton Island and a swim in the Great Barrier Reef, a climb on the Sydney Harbor Bridge and a wide variety of other you-are-there experiences.
Forget the seat-back screen and your bring-on-board tablet.
In an in-flight entertainment first, Australian carrier Qantas will soon be making Samsung’s virtual reality headsets, called Gear VR, available to premium passengers on some long-distance flights.
A three-month trial run begins in mid-March, when Qantas plans to make the headsets available to first-class passengers on some of the airline’s A380 flights between Australia and Los Angeles.
Visitors to Qantas first-class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne have headsets to test now.
Someday, Qantas says the VR technology “will transport customers to an immersive virtual world … and showcase the sights and delights of network destinations, new Qantas products and the latest in-flight blockbuster movies.”
But for now, Qantas is just giving passengers a virtual reality sampler of short features, or “vignettes,” filmed in Australia and produced by Palo Alto-based technology company Jaunt. The playlist that allows headset-wearers to watch a Qantas airplane take off and land and visit the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, a Qantas airport lounge and Kakadu, Australia’s largest national park.
“Travel and VR make a natural pair,” said Jaunt CEO Jens Christensen. “We’ve gone from no in-flight entertainment, to one drop-down screen, then screens in the seats, and now personal screens,” said Christensen.
“VR is the next step on the evolutionary scale,” he added. “Instead of a limited-size screen, a passenger is transported to a new location.”
That’s appealing if the technology is someday used to “virtually transport economy-class passengers in ultra-tight seating … to other more spacious ‘realities’ outside of the metal tube,” said Mary Kirby, founder of the Runway Girl Network. But widespread adoption by airlines “appears unlikely now” due in part to the high costs associated with the headsets and their handling, she added.
Another concern: making passengers sick. For some people find virtual reality experiences can sometimes trigger vertigo, nausea or worse.
“I think putting any device that simulates motion into something that is already moving will guarantee those air sickness bags won’t just be used for scribbling notes,” said Frank Catalano, a tech industry consultant and a columnist at GeekWire.
The stationary filming techniques used in the Qantas VR vignettes should help, said Jaunt’s Christensen, “When you’re in our environments, you’re stable. We found that eliminates the nausea.”
But what if the virtual reality experience is too good? Will travelers no longer need to actually go to the places they’ve “visited” during their flights?
“We think by transporting our customers to the immersive virtual worlds of destinations that [they] have never seen, the VR Gear will actually inspire our customers to travel more,” said Olivia Wirth, a Qantas executive for marketing and corporate affairs.
Catalano, a frequent traveler, agreed. “You simply can’t replicate the smells, the tastes, the serendipitous discoveries, the off-handed casual conversations with locals, the immersion into a new and different culture,” he said. “All virtual reality can do is stimulate the appetite for the real thing.”
(My story about virtual reality testing Qantas first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different format.)