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Virgin Atlantic testing iBeacon technology at London's Heathrow

updated 07:27 pm EDT, Fri May 2, 2014

Allows for updates on flight status, welcome messages, board pass display

Virgin Atlantic airlines is now rolling out a pilot program for Bluetooth-based iBeacons to be stationed throughout Heathrow Airport's Terminal 3, in an effort to "provide a greater customer experience" for travellers, the airline said. The proximity-based technology, which can send push notifications to those who permit it as information becomes relevant, can alert users of facilities in the lounge, pull up boarding passes as flyers approach the gates, or update flight status.

While iBeacons are generally used in retail to push special offers and product information, the airline currently envisions its use of the technology "in terms of surprise and delight" rather than primarily as an advertising tool, though discount offers for duty-free items or other retail notices might be part of the overall program. Virgin Atlantic's Head of Development for eBusiness James Shanahan described the deployment to International Business Times as "probably not quite the standard use of it."

As an example, he cited a theoretical customer who has allowed push notifications from the airline and is headed for the frequent-flyers lounge, known as the Upper Class Wing. "We know who you are [and] where you are in the airport," Shanahan said, "and on that basis, we also know your customer journey from the iBeacons. So if we know when you're going to arrive and what your favourite cocktail is, we can have that ready in the Upper Class Wing."

The iBeacons, which leverage low-energy Bluetooth to transmit information to users only as they come into a pre-set proximity of the beacon, have been used in retail stores to offer more information about a product as customers approach, or in museums to trigger "self-guided tour" events that allow visitors to proceed at their own pace, among other uses. Stadiums have employed the iBeacons to offer concession discounts or seat upgrades, help patrons find seats and augment events with information on the history of the facility and sports stats. Apple, of course, uses them throughout its retail store chain.

The iBeacons used in the Virgin Atlantic test also come equipped with thermometers and an accelerometer, which are to be put to use on the company's outdoor deck to help indoor staff know when to adjust temperature control or supply blankets to users if the weather changes. The report talks about the potential to attach beacons to each piece of checked luggage so that customers would know exactly where it is, and other useful services like providing a map of the airport when passengers walk in, directions to the boarding gate once they leave the security area, and inflight meal and entertainment options as they board the plane.

By Electronista Staff
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