Blanket Approval: British Airways Passengers, Please Fasten Your Neurosensors


British Airways, aiming to measure passenger well-being in-flight, just launched a data-collection initiative that recruits volunteers to wear “happiness blankets” on their trans-Atlantic flights

That’s right, happiness blankets. Sort of like a mood ring for your whole body (one that’s linked to a fiber optic neurosensor strapped around your head). Once travelers get past what must be a very acute “Wait, why am I doing this?” settling-in period, the magic—and data collection—can begin.

The blankets shift colors, from cool blues when the passenger is calm to red when they’re frustrated or upset. According to the video explaining the concept, passengers are most soothed at the moments when you’d expect it: during meal service, while enjoying a movie, and sleeping deeply (the airline punctuates this point with the video’s tagline, ““Never underestimate the power of a good flight’s sleep”).

So, why happiness blankets? There are so many ways to collect passenger data. Why this method, which veers pretty darn close to stunt? Obviously, British Airways was confident that it would make passengers mostly very happy, which gives them a nice story to tell prospective travelers about their experience today.[more]

It’s not entirely clear how the data from the happiness blanket—tested on a recent New York/London BA flight—will be applied, but most likely, it’ll be in the fine-tuning of the flight experience. Meals might arrive sooner, alcohol options might be more plentiful, or cabin temperatures might be calibrated to the best-possible sleep. 

So BA started with its strengths to uncover its weaknesses. And passengers are clearly willing to take part, giving the airline what some might argue is their most personal information—their brain activity—to help improve the customer experience. 

Certainly, we live in an age of participation and wearables, and it seems we’re willing to give up more of ourselves to get something better back: better experiences, better service, better treatment as human beings.

And it’s amazing when a brand asks, “What if?” and then goes about answering it in the name of making some aspect of life better, even if the way there involves getting inside its customers’ heads in the truest sense of the phrase. We just hope that what comes out of BA’s research is as good for the passenger as it is for the brand’s story.

—Caitlin Barrett is a New York-based word wrangler. Follow her on Twitter: @badnewsbarrett