British Airways is trialling a high-tech blanket that monitors brainwaves and changes colour to show when passengers are at their most relaxed in the sky.
The airline hopes the "happiness blanket" will enable it to provide an improved in-flight service on long-haul journeys.
The garment, which is woven with fibre optics, works by using neurosensors to measure a person's brainwaves. It then changes colour, from red to blue, to show when they are at their most relaxed and meditative.
The idea is for cabin crew to then alter their routine — from changing the timing of meals, what food is served and the types of films shown — to best suit passengers.
Last week, volunteers onboard a BA189 Dreamliner service from Heathrow to New York were among the first to try out the happiness blanket.
Frank van der Post, BA's managing director of brands and customer experience, said: "This is the first time this technology has been used by any airline to help shape how service is delivered on board an aircraft.
"Using technology like the British Airways 'happiness blanket' is another way for us to investigate how our customers' relaxation and sleep is affected by everything onboard, from the amount of light in the cabin, when they eat, to what in-flight entertainment they watch and their position in the seat.
"Having been the first airline to introduce the fully-flat bed in business class, we take our customers' sleep and relaxation very seriously. Now we want to ensure they get the best possible good flight's sleep as well."
The following, taken from a BA press release, explains in detail how the technology works:
"The blankets are woven with fibre optics that change colour based on the output of the sensors. When the user is tense the blanket turns red and the when the user is relaxed, the blanket turns blue, allowing us to monitor the traveller’s sleep and relaxation patterns during a flight.
"A special headband, called a Myndplay headset, is used to measure a person’s meditative state, with a number from 1 to 100. This is then relayed via Bluetooth to LED lights woven into the blanket, which range from:
- 1 - low and turns the blanket red
- 100 - high and turns it blue
"The Myndplay headset is an all-in-one neurofeedback recording, reporting and analysis device. Each one uses two sensors to detect brainwave activity as well as a user's level of concentration (focus) and relaxation (meditation)."
Based on its first trial flight, BA found that the main fluctuations took place when passengers used the in-flight entertainment and during inflight dining.
Scientists also found that the sleep blankets were coloured blue, so showed customers spent most of their time at the top end of the range, and that the sleep blankets were even darker blue when customers were resting or asleep.
Earlier this month, BA announced that the old first class cabin still in operation on its ageing Boeing 747-400 jumbos will be sold as Club World (see news, June 19).