Virgin Atlantic pioneers in-flight entertainment for the visually impaired


Faye Bridle, Virgin Atlantic’s flight service manager, Paul Smith from Guide Dogs for the Blind and guide dog Pedro try out a new range of in-flight technology (IFE). Source: Press Association

VIRGIN Atlantic has announced it will be launching a fully-accessible in-flight entertainment system for customers with sight loss. The service will be available across North America, the Caribbean, Africa, China, India and the Middle East.

Long-haul flying can be something of a miserable affair, often made a little more bearable by the in-flight entertainment (IFE).

However, all too often, people with visual impairments miss out on activities that others may take for granted, such as being able to navigate in-flight entertainment systems. But Virgin Atlantic is taking a step to ensure their visually-impaired customers can fully experience all the airline has to offer.

“Nearly 30 years ago, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer seatback entertainment in all cabins, so it’s apt that we should be the first to ensure our entertainment is fully accessible across all flights,” Mark Anderson, executive vice president of customer at Virgin Atlantic, said in a statement.

IFE is often difficult to navigate, even for frequent flyers. Pressing the cabin crew assistant button instead of turning up the volume is a regular occurrence, and accidentally restarting the movie when trying to see how long is left is something most flyers can understand. Yet these are challenges for fully-sighted people – so you can only imagine the navigation issues for those who are visually impaired.

The new technology, developed by UK tech company Bluebox Aviation Systems, will use an innovative iPad-based platform to afford customers the full range of onboard entertainment.

The new technology includes large typefaces, easy to use navigation systems and advanced brightness settings. The technology’s development was assisted by the UK-based charity Guide Dogs for the Blind and tested by people with an array of visual impairments.

“Working with Bluebox and Guide Dogs for the Blind, we’ve been able to create a world first that ensures customers with sight loss can experience the full range of onboard entertainment including the latest blockbusters, TV shows and albums,” Anderson added.

The Bluebox aIFE – a for accessible – also offers users high-contrast text, zoom options and audio-description using Apple’s VoiceOver technology.

“For such a complex development, we’re incredibly grateful to have had such willing and committed partners in both Virgin Atlantic and our testing group from Guide Dogs for the Blind,” David Brown, business development director at Bluebox, said in a statement.

The iPads will be preloaded with IFE and stowed away in the galley on all flights. The iPads will have 30 hours of battery life, which is around double the time of most long-haul flights.

This announcement is just one of the ways Virgin is trying to eliminate the stress of flying for those with visual impairments. The airline also offers familiarization days, so both guide dog and owners can get to know what to expect on the day of the flight.